NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — One of the state’s most popular, flowering ornamental trees could be its most dangerous.
Conservation officials in Hamilton, Marion, Hendricks, Boone and Johnson counties are warning against planting and growing any breed of the Callery Pear tree, including Cleveland, Whitehouse, and especially the Bradford Pear tree, citing forest invasion and years of broken limbs causing property damage.
Claire Lane, urban conservationist with Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District, says the pear trees were originally thought to be the ideal landscaping tree: beautiful spring flowers, multiple limbs, and inability to sprout saplings. The trees proved that wrong on two counts.
“Beautiful white flowers in the spring, really desirable,” Lane said. “But then they started noticing over time that these sterile trees weren’t actually sterile when planted in close proximity to each other, so they started spreading out into our natural areas.”
In addition to being a bit of a neighborhood bully by blocking sunlight and space from native trees, pear trees also have surprisingly weak branch structure that is both dense and narrow. They were imported from Asia and are technically an invasive species, not fit for windy Indiana weather.
“It’s really common to see them split apart after any kind of a storm,” said Lane. “Whenever you see some of our spring thunderstorms come through, you’re going to see a lot of branches just broken apart.”
Vince Baker, urban forester for the City of Noblesville, laughed when we asked him if he’d ever had problems with the Bradford Pear trees.
“It’s probably the most major issue,” he said about tree problems. “Every time we get called in for storm damage, it’s almost always a Bradford Pear. Nine times out of ten.”
Baker shared several photos of split and shattered trees that couldn’t withstand Indiana’s wind and ice storms in the spring and fall. He said for years the early-flowering trees were the favorite for subdivisions, businesses and churches in Noblesville. Now his team is tasked with cleaning them up, in what can cost hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars when combined with private landowner tree removal costs.
“When we get the big storms, we know what we’re in for,” Baker said.
Baker says the city’s street team has been working against the pear trees for 10 years now. City of Noblesville officials confirmed the Bradford Pear and its sub-breeds are on the “do not plant” list for the city but Lane says that list is hard to enforce, and Cleveland Pear trees were spotted on sale at at least two local home improvement stores.
“People assume it’s in the store, it’s for sale, it’s good for ecosystem, it’s good for my property but that’s not always necessarily the case,” said Lane.
The Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District recommends property owners try to remove existing Bradford Pear trees. This may require mechanical and chemical methods, according to Lane, since the tree’s root system can be very deep. The organization also pleads with developers to stop planting new pear trees, and instead select a native Indiana tree species. Lane recommends Redbud, Serviceberry, and Flowering Dogwood.
“People aren’t trying to do something bad but there’s just not a lot of awareness about the issues they create,” said Lane.