Beautiful white springtime flowers and velvety red fall foliage makes the callery pear (Pyrus calleryana) of China a beautiful small tree. First introduced into the United States in 1919, the selection 'Bradford' was released commercially by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1963. Its tight pyramid-like shape and fast growth makes it alluring for use in St. Louis where soils are compacted or less than optimum in fertility. It grows in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 through 8, including all of Missouri.
Everyone appreciates and looks forward to seeing the first flowers of spring after a dreary and cold winter. The Bradford pear swells its buds and reveals its white flowers early in spring in St. Louis, and even earlier in warm pockets protected by buildings or warmed by heat-retaining asphalt and concrete. The tendency for short-lived periods of warm weather in March coaxes flower to open. Unfortunately, late frosts continue into April. Often Bradford pear flowers are nipped and killed by frosts, diminishing the splendor of its display. In addition, some people find the flowers' fragrance offensive during the display.
Newer varieties of callery pears attain a central leader trunk and stronger branching structure than the older, historic Bradford cultivar. Atop the trunk of the Bradford pear is a matrix of many upright and horizontal branches that fuse together in roughly the same place. This creates acute-angled joints on the tree and makes it particularly susceptible to breakage during windstorms or heavy accumulations of snow or ice. Moreover, as this pear variety grows, the weight of the branches themselves cause strain on the lower joints atop the trunk, resulting in untimely branch cracking and breakage.
Ornamental Life Span
Fast-growing, Bradford pear makes a lovely small flowering tree early in its life while also providing some shade. Unfortunately, the perfectly uniform shape of the tree does not last much beyond 12 to 15 years. Limb breakage occurs frequently after this time, creating awkward holes and gaps in the once perfect shape of the tree. Rarely does a Bradford pear reach maturity at 50 feet tall by 30 feet in width without some gaping imperfection. Cracks and jagged wounds left on the tree from fallen branches exposes the tree for potential invasion by insect pests of diseases, too. Expect to replace Bradford pears after only a decade of enjoyment.