A Chickasaw plum tree full of small white blooms
One of the earliest flowering trees to bloom, native Chickasaw plum nourishes many pollinators from February-March. Photo by H. N. Kolich, UGA Extension.

Heather N. Kolich, ANR Agent, UGA Extension Forsyth County

As is the case with many invasive plants, the Callery pear tree was brought to the U.S. with good intentions. According to the U.S. Forest Service, a USDA employee imported Pyrus calleryana from Asia in 1917 to impart blight resistance and increase fruit productivity of European pear trees under cultivation. One cultivar, P. calleryana ‘Bradford’, produced sterile fruit, but it gained popularity in the 1960s as a landscape ornamental tree because of its attractive form and abundant early spring flowers. For decades, the Bradford pear’s only drawbacks were the unpleasant odor of the flowers and structural weakness. The trees tend to split under high winds, heavy snow, or the weight of their own branches.

Unfortunately, efforts to breed stronger P. calleryana cultivars created Bradford pears that can cross-pollinate and produce fruit with viable seeds. Other efforts to improve the tree included grafting the ornamental Bradford cultivar onto robust root stock. Both the fertile seeds, which birds eat and distribute, and the vigorous root stock, which can outgrow the cultivar, spread, and produce fruit with viable seeds, have moved the tree out of the suburbs and into natural and forest lands. Rouge Callery pears compete with native trees and plants for water, sunlight, and nutrients.

A Bradford pear tree with many messy rootstock growths cluttering the base of the tree.
Between vigorous rootstock that outgrows grafted Bradford pear cultivars and fruit with viable seed, this once-popular landscape tree has become an invasive plant of natural and forest lands. Photo by Jeslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org

Native flowering trees to plant instead

Several species of native trees are beautiful replacements for non-native, invasive Bradford pears. These include Eastern redbuds (Cercis canadensis L.), Chickasaw plum (Prunus angustifolia), and American fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus). Maturing at 15-30 feet tall and wide, these trees are striking, hardy, and well suited for full- to partial-sun exposure sites.

A delicate, bold pink bloom sprouting from a branch of an Eastern redbud tree.
Pink and lavender flowers sprout from twigs and branches of Eastern redbud trees in early spring, before the heart-shaped leaves emerge. Photo by H. N. Kolich, UGA Extension.

Eastern redbud – Copious pink, lavender, or red flowers emerge from the bark of branches in early March, before the heart-shaped leaves appear. A member of the pea family, flowers are edible and birds and small mammals eat the seeds. Redbud is a larval host plant for 12 species of butterflies. Foliage turns golden in the fall. Redbud resists fire and can grow in company with black walnut trees.

Chickasaw plum – One of the earliest blooming trees, the 5-petaled, white flowers are fragrant and provide pollen and nectar to several pollinator species in late February-March. It produces a large quantity of small, edible plums in June and July that nourish songbirds, wild turkeys, deer, and small mammals. Chickasaw plum is a larval host for several species of butterflies, provides excellent cover for songbirds, and resists fire.

American fringetree showing golden leaves for fall.
After displaying fragrant, fringy, white flowers in late spring and dark blue summer fruit, American fringetree puts on a golden show for the fall. Photo by Jim Robbins, Clemson Extension

American fringetree – Clusters of fragrant, white flowers with long, fringy petals bloom in late spring, followed by dark blue berries that feed birds and wildlife throughout the summer. Wide, spear-shaped leaves turn gold in the fall. It is resistant to fire and deer damage.