Homeowners encouraged to fell banned, invasive pear trees

by Melissa Martin

In a matter of days, the tender white blossoms of the Callery pear tree will be in full bloom throughout Northeast Ohio. Even those who don’t know the trees by name have undoubtedly witnessed their splendor, as they line many neighborhood streets in almost every suburb in the greater Cleveland area.

The sight, however, is one that will soon be fading, as the Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced that as of Jan. 1, 2023, it is now illegal to sell, grow or plant Callery pear trees in the state because of their invasive qualities and their likelihood to cause economic or environmental harm.

“Callery pear often dominates young, regenerating forest areas and inhibits the growth and establishment of native plant species,” said ODNR Division of Forestry Chief Dan Balser. “Halting the further sale and intentional propagation of Callery pear will help reduce the further introduction of this environmentally harmful tree species.”

Part of the problem with the Callery pear, University of Cincinnati biologist Theresa Culley said in an ODNR news release, is that, once established, the trees are hard to remove because of their long taproot. Making matters worse, she said, is that they grow quickly and can tolerate a variety of wet, dry, sunny and even shady conditions.

“They’re extremely hardy. They can grow pretty much anywhere,” said Culley. “They have abundant flowers that attract all kinds of pollinators, so they end up with abundant fruit that birds disperse.”

Culley explained that the features that had once made the trees so popular – rapid growth, disease resistance and abundant blooms – also made them hard to remove. Ecologists, she said, began sounding the alarm as they saw the trees form thickets and take over entire meadows and native ecosystems.

The statewide ban only affects the selling and planting of Callery pear trees, which means that while property owners are not required to remove the trees, they are encouraged to do so. The state has also recommended that other woody invasives, including bush honeysuckle, Japanese barberry, forsythia, burning bush and privet be avoided as well, though these varieties have yet to be banned the way the Callery pear has.

For reference, the Callery pear is an ornamental tree species native to regions of Asia. It was introduced to North America in the early 1900s for agricultural purposes. It quickly became popular for use in landscaping because of its adaptability, flowering, fall color and rounded crown. The most popular variety of the Callery pear is the Bradford pear tree. Other common species include Cleveland Select, Autumn Blaze, Chanticleer and Whitehouse.

The good news for homeowners is that there are many native alternatives that are just as beautiful as the Callery pear, but healthier for ecosystems, said John Constantine, owner of Constantine’s Garden Center in Richfield.

Among the species that Constantine recommended is the flowering crabtree, the Japanese tree lilac and even the hawthorn – all of which, he said, are extremely tolerant of conditions, such as moisture and sun.

Other varieties he recommended include the pink and white flowering dogwood and the eastern redbud. Both of those, he said, are known for their colorful spring blooms. Constantine cautioned homeowners, however, that these trees are slightly more sensitive to sunlight than their counterparts.

“You can’t plant these trees just anywhere in your yard,” he said, noting that these two species are understory trees, which means that in nature, they are meant to grow under larger trees. “In other words, they are going to need some shade.”

If a tree is planted without regard for its sun exposure needs, Constantine said the tree will be more prone to suffering stress from heat, drought or sun scorch. The added stress, he said, can weaken the tree and diminish its defenses against disease and insects, which means that trees with short lifespans are likely to decline even sooner.

Additional ornamental trees native to the eastern U.S. include serviceberry, chokecherry, American plum, eastern hophornbeam, American hornbeam, yellowwood and blackgum. All of these species will not only provide seasonal color, but experts said they will also feed native birds and pollinators. ∞