How can something start off so good and end up so bad? is a question that aptly sums up the life of this ornamental pear in the South. Native to China, it rocketed to overwhelming popularity after its flagship selection, 'Bradford,' appeared in the 1960s. It com- bines spectacular spring flowers and fall foliage with a tidy, formal shape and tolerance for heat, drought, compacted soil, and polluted air. Unfortunately, it wasn't until callery pears festooned practically every highway median, shopping mall parking lot, and suburban front yard that its serious flaws became apparent.
Growing 50 ft. tall and nearly as wide with a pyramidal to rounded shape, callery pear is both weedy and savagely thorny. Blooms have a fishy odor. Tuna on a trunk is a good way to describe the situation. When thornless selections like those listed below cross-pollinate, they produce hundreds of mostly thorny seedlings that form impenetrable thickets. Indeed, this tree is now considered an invasive weed in many states. Most selections are prone to fireblight, a disease that blackens leaves and branch tips. 'Capital,' 'Redspire,' and 'White House' are very susceptible; do not plant them.
'Aristocrat.' One of three recommended substitutes for 'Bradford' (see below). Grows to 40 ft. tall, 25 ft. wide with a shape reminiscent of red maple (Acer rubrum). Well-spaced branches are more horizontal and less prone to storm damage than those of 'Bradford'. However, it doesn't flower as profusely, and its yellow-orange fall foliage is less showy. Somewhat susceptible to fireblight.
'Bradford.' BRADFORD PEAR. Fast-growing, easy to transplant, tough, adaptable, and disease- resistant. Showy spring flowers and spectacular glossy red fall foliage. Unfortunately, it lacks a central leader; main limbs fan out from a small area on the trunk, making it extremely prone to splitting in storms. Can grow 50 ft. tall and 40 ft. wide in 20 years, but seldom survives that long. Should no longer be planted.
'Chanticleer' ('Cleveland Select,' 'Select,' 'Stone Hill'). Best substitute for 'Bradford.' Grows 40 ft. tall, 20 ft. wide with a narrowly pyramidal shape. Not susceptible to fireblight or storm damage. Heavy bloomer with yellow-orange to purple fall foliage.
'Trinity.' Round-headed tree to 30 ft. tall and wide. Resists fireblight. Not prone to wind damage. Showy orange-red fall color.