There is a species of tree that is incredibly popular with landscapers and homeowners for its quick growth rate and pretty flowers, but despite these somewhat attractive qualities, this tree is a nightmare for Indiana's biodiversity.

Those Flowers Don't Smell Like Flowers At All

Not only does this particular tree smell bad, with some even describing the blossoms as smelling of "rotting fish," but it is also highly invasive, making it a very real threat to the Indiana ecosystem.

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Photo by Johnny Brewer on Unsplash
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Offensively Smelly and Highly Invasive

What kind of tree smells like rotting fish and terribly invasive? The Callery Pear. It goes by a number of more common names with perhaps the most well-known being Bradford Pear and was first introduced in the United States in 1917, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Other common names for the Callery Pear include:

  • Cleveland Select Pear
  • Autumn Blaze Pear
  • Aristocrat Pear
  • Red Spire Pear
  • Chanticleer Pear, and more
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Prone to Damage from Winds and Ice

Over the years I've heard horror stories about these trees, although I have only learned of the offensive fragrance in recent years. I had always heard that they are terrible for this part of the country, in part because we live in an area prone to severe weather, especially high winds, and Callery Pears are not known for being the most sturdy.

Growing Too Fast Makes Them Weak

While that mighty oak tree in your backyard has taken several decades to reach its towering size and strength to withstand midwestern winds, the Callery Pear has become popular because it grows at such a quick rate. Unfortunately, that rapid growth rate means that these trees are actually structurally weak making them susceptible to being torn apart, or as someone once described it to me, "shredded," by high winds.

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Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash
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Overused and Terrible for Indiana's Biodiversity

Not only is the Callery Pear smelly and weak, but it is also considered to be an invasive species in the state of Indiana. According to the Sycamore Land Trust, the tree is an "urgent threat."

Overused by landscapers due to their showy blooms, fast growth, and upright stature, Callery pear trees are wreaking havoc on Indiana’s biodiversity by spreading rapidly to wild open spaces, where seeds from bird droppings and cross-pollination create monoculture landscapes of dense thickets with sharp thorns (sharp enough to puncture a tractor tire!) that choke out native species and diminish crucial habitat and food for pollinators.

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Not The Same As The Pears You Would Eat

Callery Pears are not to be confused with the types of pears that you would find in the grocery store. While the pears you find in the store are suitable for human consumption, Callery Pear fruit is not, but it is edible by birds and wildlife, which is how the population of this invasive species has grown. According to the Indiana DNR,

Callery pear cultivars are self-sterile; however, when there are multiple cultivars in the same area, they can cross pollinate, resulting in fruit with viable seeds. Birds eat the plentiful fruit and deposit the seeds in new locations. These new hybrid trees spread quickly by seed and sprouting.

 

They Can Prevent Native Trees From Growing

They also say that because the trees bloom and leaf earlier than native trees, they can actually choke out native trees by preventing them from receiving the sunshine they need to survive and thrive.

Here's How to Get Rid Of Them

 

DNR advises that larger Callery Pears can be girdled - a method of remediation that involves cutting the bark around the perimeter of the tree. Saplings can be pulled straight from the ground. Other options for mature trees include cutting them down and treating the stump with a herbicide to inhibit the roots and prevent the tree from growing back.

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What to Plant Instead

Before you decide to plant a new tree in your yard, you might want to consider some other options and just skip right past the Callery Pear altogether. Some good alternatives to the Callery Pear, according to Indiana DNR, include:

  • Redbud
  • Serviceberry
  • American plum
  • Hawthorn
  • Flowering Dogwood.

More About the Sycamore Land Trust

The Sycamore Land Trust is located in Bloomington, Indiana, and protects 117 properties spanning more than 10,000 acres all across southern Indiana. They also operate an Environmental Education Program that makes nature accessible to everyone. To learn more about the Sycamore Land Trust, visit them on Facebook.

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