All pear trees (Pyrus spp.) blossom in springtime, but only species with large, showy displays of the white flowers earn the name “flowering pear.” Four species of pear in particular become nicely shaped trees with blazing fall foliage hues. Provide them with lots of sunshine and a fertile soil that remains moist but drains well.
Callery pear trees (Pyrus calleryana) comprise numerous cultivated varieties that many people immediately regard as a “flowering pear.” This species hails from China and Korea and in its wild form bears thorny branches with an irregular canopy shape. It tolerates extremes in heat, drought and compacted soils and shows resilience to fire blight disease. No wonder they grace parks and gardens in both rural and urban settings. Birds spread the seeds from the tiny fruit, causing weedy seedlings to appear. Grow these trees in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Hardiness Zones 5 through 8, and chillier parts of Zone 9.
Five varieties of Callery pear warrant mention. “Aristocrat” grows with a strong branching structure and its foliage turns rusty orange in the fall. It reaches a height of 40 feet with 25 feet of canopy. “Bradford” profusely forms white flowers with a branching system that splits apart as the tree reaches about 15 years of age. If it survives, this selection potentially grows 50 feet tall and 40 feet wide. “Capital” look like a fat column growing 35 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Plant this variety in cool summer regions. “Chanticleer” (also referred to as “Select,” “Cleveland Select” and “Stone Hill”) also grows with a strong branching structure, reaching maturity at 40 feet in height and 20 feet in width. Neither “Redspire” nor “Whitehouse” flower as profusely as Bradford but both attain a pyramid-like habitat. They mature to 40 feet tall by 20 feet wide.
The common or edible pear (Pyrus communis) is native to western Asia and southeastern Europe. Even if you didn’t want to pick the soft-fleshed fruits, this irregularly branched but picturesque tree matures to 20 to 30 feet tall and about 15 to 25 feet wide. The stinky flowers appear in early spring in profusion, leading to fruits that are about four inches in diameter. Fall foliage becomes dark red. Dozens of edible pear varieties exist, each with different fruit flavors or shapes; best culture requirements for each will vary. Usually they grow best across USDA Hardiness Zones 4 through 8.
The round, hard-fleshed fruit of the Asian or Chinese sand pear (Pyrus pyrifolia) makes this species one that owes most of its popularity to its flowering display on its broad, spreading branches. It gets 30 to 40 feet tall and wide, with fall foliage color a mix of gold, orange and red. When the fruits fall off the tree, they become a nuisance litter. Add this tree if you garden in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 through 8.
Also called the Chinese pear, the Ussurian pear (Pyrus ussuriensis) hails from the cold lands of northern China and eastern Siberia. It works as a substitute for any Callery pear where they cannot grow because winters are too cold. A large tree species, they reach a mature height of 50 feet, with width to match. North Dakota State University developed a heavily flowering selection called "Mordak," sold under the trademarked name of Prairie Frost pear. Selection "Bailfrost" grows more upright and goes by the marketed name Market Frost pear. These trees prosper in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 6.