Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Extoling the virtues of the stinky pear

Back in the 80s, some sort of freakshow Bradford pear (callery pear) lobby must have pulled a fast one on city councils everywhere, because it seems like a lot of towns across the country have these as their "city trees." And I see why. They have a lot of Pros:

  • As you see from the pictures, they're absolutely lovely in spring-- one big mass of white blooms.

  • Positively perfect in shape, requiring next to no pruning or shaping.

  • They usually only grow to around 30 or 40 feet tall.

  • They're disease resistant.

  • They grow pretty quickly.

  • And they are the most vibrant flame red until late in the autumn.

All this making them excellent for landscaping large parking lots, boulevards and walkways. They can be quite dramatic.

But there's a good many cons here, too. The top of my list would be the stank factor. One tree isn't that bad-- in fact, I was only getting a brief whiff of it here and there while I raked Sunday. But when you have a whole town full of them, it ain't pretty. I would describe it as fish meets electrical fire. However, wikipedia describes it as, "a sickly-sweet smell, often compared to the odor of human semen." Um. Ew. Not really how I'd put it, so take that as you will. (Disclaimer: Adam tells me that he does NOT think they smell bad-- merely sweet. I know that I'm not alone in this, though...)

Also, they are really weak trees. "Why do I only see half a tree in the picture on the previous post," you ask? Well, there's only half a tree there. We get tornadoes, ultra high winds during storms, and the odd ice storm. The branches diverge from the trunk quite low and extend so far up and so vertically, that the trees just split with any stress at all. And these trees don't really bear fruit-- they have little berry/acorn-like nobbies. Oh-- and while they are the first to bloom in spring, they are last to lose their leaves, which I would consider a pro AND a con.

So I would say that, overall, I'm thrilled to have mine-- it's just gorgeous in autumn, and the stench won't last that much longer (not to mention the fact that, even if we didn't have one, we'd be smelling them all over town anyway). And I'm clearly sort of late in the game when it comes to raking leaves as it is.

It's just that I would rather have, I don't know, another dogwood. Or a tulip tree-- I DO covet those tulip trees.


Karen in Wichita said...

Back in college, I worked one summer at an architectural firm. One side of the business designed zoos (which was pretty darn cool, since one of my jobs was sorting photos they had taken of nifty features of zoos all over the world), and the other side did landscape architecture, which I paid much less attention to, but I did learn one thing: Marshall's Seedless Ash.

I'm really tempted to replace the Elm Of Doom out front (which lacks *all* the redeeming features of the Bradford Pear, and adds in the "tall enough that when *it* sheds branches, which it does the way other trees shed leaves, the danger zone covers three lots" issue) with a maple to match what the city put in on the rest of the street, but if I decide on something bigger I'm totally going with a Marshall's. If I had space to put one out back, I'd do it. (Possibly when the neighbor's hackberry is finally gone in the back corner, but then we'd have to get a big enough one that it wouldn't be shaded out by our garage that wasn't there when the hackberry was young.)

Amalie said...

I just looked those up and they look lovely-- similar to the the pear in shape and size, just a little less freakishly "perfect" in shape.

We've actually got a spot where a maple tree once was. The maple on the opposite, mirror side of the lawn is now not looking too healthy, so I've been considering a tree to replace the missing one that can be big by the time the sad one goes. And I have designs on tulip trees somewhere, dammit.

Thanks for the tip!

Aimee said...

i haven't seen those before, they do look really pretty though! too bad they smell bad. :)

We are in said...

"a sickly-sweet smell, often compared to the odor of human semen."

Often? Really? I must not travel in the right crowds! :o)

Amalie said...

Often. Yes.

My thoughts PRECISELY.

Green Fairy said...

Okay, I had to Google Bradford Pear Semen to see what came up--nearly 2000 hits! I have to go smell these trees for myself.