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February 1, 2024 6 mins

Though beautiful, Bradford pear trees are invasive in the U.S., use up precious water, are brittle -- and smell decidedly funky. Learn more in this episode of BrainStuff, based on this article: https://home.howstuffworks.com/whats-that-smell-dreaded-bradford-pear.htm

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to Brainstuff, a production of iHeartRadio, Hey Brainstuff, Lauren
Bogel Bomb here. The smell of the Bradford Pear tree
is likely not what you'd expect if you've never encountered
one before. The tree is a common ornamental landscaping plant,
with its springtime blooms of copious, puffy white flowers and

(00:23):
its crimson foliage in the fall, and it was once
the darling of subdivision planners across the United States. But
it turns out the tree has a whole canopy of
flaws that are driving its reputation straight into the ground.
Bradford Pear is brittle, needs heavy watering, smells real weird
when it blooms, and compounding all of the above, it

(00:46):
reproduces wildly. According to the Washington Post, the tree is
a nightmare, an environmental time bomb, and an ecological marauder
destined to continue its spread for decades. The New York
Time I'm simply called it the most despised tree. But okay,
let's back up. We keep talking about the smell. Haters, trolls,

(01:10):
and straight up journalists will report that its flowers smell
vociferously like a combination of fish rot and seamen. The
fleshy rotting scent is strong enough that it attracts flies,
which are the trees principal pollinators. But the tree smells Okay,
it's still a tree. It gives us oxygen in this

(01:31):
dire world of obvious climate change, extreme storms, drought, and
countless associated maladies. Don't we need all the trees we
can get well? Yes, but the issues with the Bradford
pear are motley and menifold. First off, it's invasive to
the United States. A version of it, the calorie pair,

(01:52):
was brought over from China to the northwest of the
United States in the early twentieth century in an effort
let in part by botanist David Fairchild, who was partially
responsible for bringing Japanese cherry blossoms to Washington, d c.
The calorie was thought to be resistant to fire blight,
a serious bacterial disease that affects other pear trees. The
idea was to use the calorie as a strong rootstock.

(02:16):
Branches from varieties of European pairs that were not resistant
to the blight could be grafted on, giving them borrowed resilience.
Fast forward to nineteen sixty, a tree scientist at the
US Department of Agriculture in Glendale, Maryland, released the Bradford pear,
a cultivar of the calorie, to the public. It didn't
matter that it doesn't grow fruit. It was beautiful. People

(02:39):
loved it. It seemed perfect for suburban America, a nice,
neat canopy shape, not too big, seemingly hardy, and with
showy displays in the spring and fall. It became commonplace
across the United States. For the article this episode is
based on How Stuffworks, spoke with Alex Beasley, the donor
and public relations manager Trees Atlanta, a nonprofit with a

(03:02):
mission to quote protect and improve Atlanta's urban forest. Even
he doesn't like the Bradford pear, he said, for a
time this was the hot tree for contractors and home
builders to plant. It was easily sourced, fast growing, and
virtually indestructible, so all seemed well until it didn't. Through

(03:25):
the years and decades, problems with the tree emerged. The
fishy smell was one thing, but upon maturity, Bradford pears
and their branches become structurally weak. During storms, they can
cause all kinds of damage from falling and flying branches,
but once the tree had put down its roots in
North America, it wasn't going anywhere, in part because it

(03:47):
so easily propagates. A six months after blooming, the Bradford
offers clusters of seedy berries to birds, who then fly away,
poop out the seeds, and spread the tree to new forests. Further,
the Bradford paar is greedy with water. Their roots soak
up waters so well that they negatively affect other plants
and trees around them. Beasley said, if only people knew

(04:11):
that when they plant one of these trees, they've possibly
planted a hundred others, which have the power to ravage
a forest's trees, which countless numbers of wildlife depend on
the tree's invasive qualities certainly stand out. But let's consider
a counterpoint. The world has many invasive species, thanks largely
to what some argue is the most invasive species of all,

(04:34):
we Homo sapiens. As we have conquered the globe, we've
helped spread plant and animal life that have decimated untold
numbers of native species around the world. With that in mind,
does there come a time when invasiveness just becomes reality?
Beasley answers. Equivocally, he said, never replant with an invasive species.

(04:58):
This is about as bad as intentional planting English ivy
in your yard. You're dooming your neighbors for generations. When
there is an opportunity to replant, to help mend pass
damages to our urban forest, why not take it? Trade
out crate myrtle for a native hornbeam, trade out Leyland
cypress for Eastern red cedar, trade out a Bradford pear

(05:18):
for an oak. I just do not know how it's
legal to sell plants that we know are invasive. Ban
them for the same reason that you can no longer
smoke on airplanes, it adversely affects others. How can we
buy a plant that's so destructive to our forests and
causes millions, if not billions, in tax dollar remediation. So

(05:39):
what can we do? Consider supporting a local native plant initiative.
Always check with the local landscaping expert for planting or replanting.
If you want a tree with lovely white flowers in
the spring, consider the native dogwood. But is there anything else?
Beasley said, If only I had a Dolorean, yes, I

(05:59):
would wipe this tree from the American landscape. Strong words,
but not out of line with popular opinion. While it
was a briefly celebrated member of the US flora landscape,
to be a Bradford pear tree these days really stinks.

(06:20):
Today's episode is based on the article the dreaded Bradford
pear tree smell isn't very paarlike on HowStuffWorks dot Com,
written by Jamie Allen. Brainstuff is production of my heart
Radio in partnership with how stuffworks dot Com and is
produced by Tyler Klang. Four more podcasts from my heart Radio.
Visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen
to your favorite shows.

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