Flowering Pear Tree
As a landscaping tree, the flowering pear or Pyrus calleryana is an excellent candidate in many regions. It tolerates all types of soil, drought, damp, it's disease resistant, and it puts on a spectacular display. Some downsides include inedible fruit that drops yearly and the fact that it has an undesirable smell which some people cannot tolerate.
Flowering Pear Description
This deciduous flowering tree grows to about 20 feet in height that will grow in USDA zones 5-9. When young this tree shoots upward in a conical shape, but as it ages it gains a canopy. Older trees may be 35 feet wide. In the early spring, the tree erupts with five-petaled white flowers. Each flower is about an inch in diameter.
The scent of the flowering pear is supposed to be memorable, but not pleasant. The odor has been compared to rotting fish or chlorine.
After it blossoms, the tree flushes out dark green oval leaves. They are shiny, three inches long, and smooth in texture with slightly paler undersides. These leaves remain green until late in the autumn when the tree once again becomes the centerpiece of a yard landscape.
If not taken by frost first, the leaves will change to brilliant colors of yellow, orange, purple, pink, and red. Sometimes multiple shades occur on a single leaf.
The small fruits develop late in autumn. They are woody, inedible, and less than an inch in diameter. They hand on the tree until softened by frost and taken by birds. The birds then drop the seed in their excrement which leads to the spreading of this species in non-native regions.
Originally native to China and Korea, not much is known about how the flowering pear or the Callery Pear made it’s way across the old world. In the new world, it’s history is complicated. It had booming success followed by disdain.
In the early 1900s, the USDA paid botanist Frank Meyer to travel the world. He brought many crops to the U.S. including various legumes, fruits, vegetables, and trees. Among them was the Callery Pear.
There is so much to like about this pear tree. It is highly disease resistant, tolerant of various soil types, climate conditions, and not a favorite food among herbivorous wildlife. All of these reasons are why it was received with admiration. It’s a great ornamental plant. The flowering pear was planted throughout North America in yards and parks.
The USDA gave it to two introduction stations. One in Corvallis, Oregon and another in Glenn Dale, Maryland. The Maryland station eventually created the first flowering pear cultivar called the ‘Bradford.’ It was most prominently used as rootstock for grafting European pear varieties.
Grafted trees produce the fruit of the graft while maintaining the disease resistance and hardiness of the rootstock variety. Inevitably a sucker will sprout from a rootstock and grow large enough to flower and produce seed. Birds spread the seed and the Callery Pear is released.
The Callery Pear began invading natural areas, riverbanks, and farmland. Owners of the trees started noticing problems with the growth habits. Bradford pears are famous for upward growing branches that come off the main leaders at narrow angles. These branches split when weighed down by rain or snow, making these trees susceptible to storm damage.
The World Trade Center Survivor Tree
After the World Trade Center collapsed in 2001, a Callery Pear which had once stood on the property was discovered badly damaged but alive among the wreckage. It was removed and transported to a nearby nursery where it recovered.
After its recovery, it was planted back at the memorial park at Ground Zero. It’s known as the Survivor Tree and represents resilience.
Today the Callery Pear still has a controversial place in the yards and parks of North America. In 2005, a cultivar won the “Urban Tree of the Year” Award from The Society Of Municipal Arborists. However, it’s considered invasive in many states and is not recommended for planting.
Planting Flowering Pears
Flowering pears can be planted as ornamental trees in USDA zones 5-8. They are sensitive to extreme cold and may suffer damage if exposed to freezing weather for too long.
They tolerate soils of all types as long as it has adequate drainage. Place the tree in a full sun location and shelter it from prevailing winds for the best results. Space multiple trees 10-20 feet apart depending on if you’d like more of a hedge or row.
Consider a cultivar that has a better branching pattern than the Bradford. Most modern cultivars are not as well known for breaking. Here are a few popular flowering pear tree cultivars.
- Bradford: 1st cultivar created, beautiful, blight and borer resistant but prone to breakage.
- Aristocrat: A larger tree at 30 feet tall and 20 feet wide. Less prone to breakage and still resistant.
- Chanticleer: Tight growing, gorgeous and resistant, less suckering
- Autumn Blaze: This is a beautiful cultivar known for it’s fiery red autumn display.
Flowering Pear Tree Care
Keep young trees well watered as they become established. A rule of thumb is to give 10 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter. Adjust for natural precipitation and check the soil before watering to make sure it’s necessary. If it feels damp, then it may not need any water.
Building a ring of mulch around the base will help trap in moisture and prevent the soil from drying out. Avoid touching the trunk of the tree with mulch, pull it a few inches back. Use anything organic like grass clippings, straw or old plant stocks, wood chips, or even shredded newspaper.
Planting flowering pears amidst other fruit trees like apples, cherries, or crabapple trees is beneficial. It helps protect the pear trees from wind and the blossoms draw in pollinator insects.
Beneficial companion plants include nitrogen fixers like Siberian Pea Shrub, Comfrey, Clover, and Autumn Olive. Gardeners can also grow legumes or vegetables around the base of flowering pears.
Pruning is one of the most important aspects of caring for a Callery Pear. Because of their brittle branches and tendency to grow narrow notches, unpruned trees will likely suffer damage at some point.
Prune Callery Pears to a central leader. This means pick one or two main verticle branches to let grow. Most others will be cut out. Remove all branches that come off of the central leader at less than 45-degree angles.
Remove branches that cross over each other or rub together. These are places where weak spots will occur and create vulnerability. Prune for maximum sunlight and airflow into the tree. A well-pruned tree is not only healthier and stronger. It will produce more blossoms in the spring.
Always remove any suckers. Suckers are branches that spurt out of the ground around the base of the tree or out from between a branch and a leader. Suckers are propagational growth. They can be removed and rooted to become new trees that are genetically identical to the parent tree. Suckers around the base of a flowering pear will grow quickly. If left unpruned, they can easily create an impenetrable mass.
Feed flowering pears each spring. You can layer on three to six inches of good compost as a mulch. This will slowly release nutrients as the water pulls it down to the root mass. Or, make a liquid compost tea and water it in. Avoid using high nitrogen fertilizers. These encourage sucker growth and make fruit trees vulnerable to pest damage and disease.
While the fruit of a flowering pear is inedible the wood is useful. Like all hardwood fruit trees, pear wood is sought after for specialty projects. Callery hardwood is a valuable material for building woodwind instruments. It’s also the most desirable wood for creating woodcuts, or intricate relief wood carvings.