Five flowering trees to plant instead of Bradford Pear

One of the surest signs that spring has arrived each year is the blooming of the Bradford pear trees. Widely planted as a street tree, in the parking lots of malls and offices, and in home landscapes, they’re impossible to miss: oval-canopied trees with a mantle of white flowers so thick that it almost resembles snow. This incredible flower power, coupled with an appealing neat habit, glossy green foliage, handsome fall color, and rugged resistance to all sorts of environmental challenges, has made them one of the most ubiquitous ornamental trees in the US and Canada.

Properly known as a Callery pear – derived from its scientific name, Pyrus calleryana – this plant is commonly known as “Bradford pear,” due to the popularity of the cultivar ‘Bradford’, introduced by the USDA in 1962. Its obvious aesthetic appeal made it an instant success in spite of its notable liabilities. The flowers have a smell that can be charitably described as malodorous (NCSU describes it as “…like a decaying animal”), and their branches occur in tight bunches at extreme angles so they readily break due to wind, snow, ice, and even maturity, obliterating up to half the tree at one go.

Invasive Bradford pear trees that have spread into the wild.
Bradford pear trees that have spread to a natural area. Photo credit: Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org

The popularity – and shortcomings – of ‘Bradford’ encouraged the introduction of additional cultivars, which caused an unforeseen liability to develop: invasiveness. The new cultivars cross-pollinated with ‘Bradford’ and with one another, allowing small, corky, rounded pears to develop. Though they aren’t remotely edible to humans, they are relished by birds, which led to  the tree spreading into natural areas. In the wild (especially in warmer climates), they form dense communities that out-compete native vegetation and can even make areas entirely impassible. To date, they are known to be invasive in at least 25 states, and are banned from being sold or planted in at least 17 of them. While these bans are good news for nature lovers and conservationists, they pose challenges to garden centers, landscapers, and homeowners, who have been using Bradford pear as a go-to tree for decades.

The good news is that those who need or want an alternative to Bradford pear are spoiled for choice. There are many other options that are equally, if not more, beautiful, offer benefits that Bradford pears do not, and have none of the baggage. Whether you are looking to plant a new tree or replace an existing Bradford pear, these five options will look great in your yard – and let you sleep well at night.

Amelanchier canadensis ‘Sprizam’

How Spring Glory serviceberry is similar to Callery pear:

  • Small but abundant white flowers in early-mid spring (flowers have no scent)
  • Attractive pyramidal/oval habit, more loose and natural than the pear
  • Stunning fall color

How Spring Glory serviceberry is better than Callery pear:

  • Native to North America; non-invasive
  • Edible fruits in June are delicious to eat for humans, or if left on the tree, joyfully consumed by birds and other wildlife
  • Landscape-friendly size and habit: 12’/3.6m tall x 6-8’/1.8-2.4m tall and wide
  • Tolerates light shade (as few as four hours of sun/day)
  • Hardier than, and equally heat tolerant as the pear

Cornus alternifolia ‘Wstackman’

How Golden Shadows dogwood is similar to Callery pear:

  • White flower clusters in mid-late spring
  • Striking, dramatic habit and shape

How Golden Shadows dogwood is better than Callery pear:

  • Species native to North America; non-invasive
  • Unique yellow and green variegated foliage
  • Hardier than the pear (USDA zone 3), nearly as heat tolerant (through USDA zone 8)

Crataegus crus-galli var. inermis ‘Cruzam’

How Crusader hawthorn is similar to Callery pear:

  • Covered in white flower clusters in late spring
  • Extremely glossy foliage
  • Tidy habit, with an upright rounded canopy hovering above a straight trunk
  • Extremely durable and tolerant of harsh urban conditions

How Crusader hawthorn is better than Callery pear:

  • Native to North America; non-invasive
  • Ornamental red fruits in summer and fall
  • Hardy to USDA zone 3 (though not quite as heat tolerant as the pear)
  • 15’/4.6m tall and wide habit is useful in residential, commercial, and urban plantings

Malus ‘Lollizam’

How Lollipop crabapple is similar to Callery pear:

  • Covered in white flowers in mid-late spring
  • Distinctive, tidy habit is like a lollipop on a smooth, straight trunk

How Lollipop crabapple is better than Callery pear:

  • Flowers are delightfully fragrant
  • Attractive red fruits
  • A bit smaller (8’/2.4m tall and wide vs. 20’+/6m+ tall and wide)
  • Non-invasive

Malus ‘Swesutyzam’

How Sweet Sugar Tyme crabapple is similar to Callery pear:

  • Covered in white flowers in mid-late spring
  • Distinctive pyramidal/oval habit looks striking and neat

How Sweet Sugar Tyme crabapple is better than Callery pear:

  • Flowers are delightfully fragrant
  • Bright red fruits persist through winter for extra color
  • A bit smaller (10’/3m tall and wide vs. 20’+/6m+ tall and wide)
  • Non-invasive

Ask for these Proven Winners ColorChoice Trees at your favorite local garden center. If you don’t have one yet, these retailers provide our plants throughout the US and Canada.

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3 Responses

  1. Now that was a fun and interesting article. What not to do, and then right afterwards, what to do its place. Very much appreciated it over the buy this, buy that approach. Just Right for the realistic gardener

  2. Thank you for an intelligent, educational article. I had a Bradford Pear that got so top heavy it fell over.

  3. Thank you for a very interesting and thoughtfully presented article.
    The solutions were quite nice and presented in a timely fashion for those wishing to replace Bradford’s or simply looking for a spring blooming specimen tree with a somewhat similar appearance and growth habit.

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