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Felder’s Fruit Trees

Felder Rushing

Donuts on Cake

There is a storm raging in Paradise, with some plants causing real problems, one raindrop at a time. Starting in our own yards.

Past week or so, towns and countryside have been awash in a surfeit of beauty, fragrance, pollinators, and more. A lot goes hand-in-hand, like how hummingbirds are lured northward by an unfolding cascade of red buckeyes.

Here is the problem. Though most garden plants are beautiful, useful, and even beneficial, some easily escape cultivation as their digested fruit and seed are spread far and wide by wildlife. Most are not that big a deal, but a few are beyond troublesome.

This twice past president of our state’s native plant society is not a zealous purist; I overlook troubling but only somewhat invasive wisteria, mimosa, eleagnus, mahonia, royal empress tree, and even nandina and honeysuckle, all which sometimes crowd out local vegetation. Besides, native plants can be weedy as well (poison ivy, oak seedlings come to mind), or even problematic like how non-native honeybees are killed after supping on our native yellow jessamine vines.

But I’m finally convinced to call out the astonishingly beautiful Bradford-type pears, which are wreaking havoc outside the garden, overwhelming natural systems, wiping out natives and their interdependent critters, and disrupting forestry and other agriculture. And are nearly impossible to get rid of even with chopping and herbicides.

It is getting so bad that I am having to overcome my natural resistance to being told what and what not to do; despite their beauty and benefits including for pollinators and nesting and fruit-feasting birds, with some chagrin I am changing my mind about the use of ornamental pears in landscapes. Simply put, their offspring are suffocating big swaths of the countryside.

Bradford pears ought to go away. Like tallow/popcorn trees and kudzu, no longer available for sale. There, I said it.

Not that there was initially anything wrong with them in the landscape, mind you. In my own horticulture lifetime, they because wildly popular in the landscaping because of their low cost, fast growth, predictable teardrop shape, abundant blooms, and fantastic fall color. But they have downsides, too; overlooking how their flowers smell like dead fish to most folks, the generally short-lived trees have lots of weak, narrow angled branches prone to split in wind or ice storms, and, like Leyland cypress, sooner rather than later they peter out leaving big holes in our garden happiness.

But worst still, the hybrid cultivars including Bradford, Cleveland, Chanticleer, and Aristocrat turn out to not be fruitless as advertised. They freely cross-pollinate between one another and now with their wild progeny, and the very small fruits are eaten by birds and spread the seeds, and form beautiful but impenetrably dense, thorny thickets in roadsides, fields, and woodland edges and crowd out native plants. Because they flower and leaf out early, they shade and outcompete many native plants, including many depended on butterfly larvae, which feed our baby birds.

There are lots of trees to choose from, so why plant ones that we know create problems? Consider native alternatives which are almost as pretty: Chickasaw plum, serviceberry, eastern redbud, native red maple, parsley hawthorn, black cherry, American fringe tree (“grancy graybeard”) and others. The leaves of these native trees also provide a good food source for caterpillars, which means songbirds have a food source.

No single raindrop feels responsible for the flood; most gardeners overlook our responsibility for little things that can add up outside our purview. But when it comes to ornamental pears, it’s time to stop the deluge by no longer planting the storm.

Donuts on Cake
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