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Flowers, Fruits, and Frass

A certain air around Callery Pear

Callery Pear on forest edge - Photo by Chris Evans, University of Illinois Extension

Do you see those beautiful white flowering trees lining the streets and backyards? These delicate white blossoms, made brighter by the months of winter endured, are actually an environmental hazard to the Illinois wilds. Callery Pear season is upon us.

It’s actually the seeds of these flowers resulting in cross-pollinating with different varieties that results in viable seeds, carried by birds to become weedy invaders, even making its way into our forests.

For years the ornamental value of Callery Pear and its cultivars was touted as the perfect plant. It has a beautiful spring floral display, glossy leaves, good fall showing, and is extremely easy to grow. Almost too easy to grow, allowing it to dominate disturbed natural areas. The landscape industry has mostly weaned itself from this plant because of its inability to handle stormy weather and consistent problems with fire blight, but this common landscape tree has left its mark on the state of Illinois.

The havoc invasive plant species wreak on the ecosystem is pervasive. The Bradford Callery pear, which leafs-out before native species, prevents other plants from growing in its understory. Butterflies can’t lay their eggs on non-existent plants. Birds can’t eat nonexistent caterpillars. And we are left with astounding losses of biodiversity. Compared to other threats to biodiversity, these introduced invasive species rank second only to habitat destruction, such as woodland clearing and wetland filling.

Armed with better information, Illinois gardeners are left with a decision to make. Allow this tree to wreak havoc on the environment in our state? Or cut it down?

As a horticulturist, I have spent part of my career trying to teach people to save their trees, but as an environmentalist, I am telling you that you can help the planet by cutting down that tree and replacing it with a native Illinois tree. Imagine all your angst about saving the environment sharpening the blade of the axe, your muscles swelling to fall a truly awful tree.

Some of the best native alternatives are serviceberry (Amelanchier) and dogwood (Cornus), and each have similarly gorgeous white spring flowers and good fall colors.

While you’re at it, make plans to remove other landscape invasives like Burning Bush (Euonymous alatus) Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) English Ivy (Hedera helix) and winter creeper (Euonymus fortunei).

With a little care, you can have trees that will be a more hospitable place for the wildlife.

Learn more about Illinois invasive species