This tree is a cultivated variety of the Callery Pear. It was brought over from China about 100 years ago to a nursery in Massachusetts. It is considered an invasive species in Atlanta.
Not too long ago, it was considered a popular tree here. The public wanted a fast growing tree. They also wanted a tree that had a natural rounded form and bloomed. The tree geneticists put their heads together and the Bradford pear was developed.
They got all three of the desired features: rapid growth, natural rounded form, and flowers. And the leaves turn a showy red crimson come fall time. Bonus! But they got some other features that have turned out to be not so good.
This tree has a bad tendency to fall apart when it is mature. The branch attachments are very weak. When one branch splits, it leaves the remaining tree ugly and one-sided plant.
There is a remedial cure for this kind of bad behavior: partial decapitation, or "topping." Generally, topping is a curse word in the arboriculture (tree) industry. This is where you lop off a significant amount of a limb and leave an amputated cut end. We wouldn’t suggest this technique on any tree ... except the Bradford pear.
If you’ve just got to keep this beloved tree around you’ll need to do this periodically. On a mature tree (20-30 years old), reduce its size from 30 to 50 percent. This reduces the leverage factor on those weak branch attachments and prevents them from breaking out. The tree will look hacked, but only for a short period of time. In a matter of three months, those cut ends will sprout out like a privet hedge. You won’t even be able to see where the cuts were made. Do this every few years. The tree inspector will be able to tell you when and how much to take off.
In Atlanta, the Bradford pear is one of the very few species for which you don’t need a permit to remove it. Just say the magic word “Bradford pear” and BAM! Instant permit with a few happy nods.
Another annoying feature of this tree is that although the flowers are very pretty, they smell like cat urine! Now that might be a familiar and tolerated smell to cat lovers, but it is downright unpleasant to most of us.
Atlanta got on the bandwagon a decade or so ago with this species of tree and planted a great many of them. In no time there were tree-lined streets that looked gorgeous every Spring, but you had to keep your windows rolled up. In the Fall you could take your out of town guests on a tour of the city and hear the gushing. Then the trees started falling apart. They kept falling and falling and falling, and the chippers kept busy. Now Atlanta residents are sick of them. When you see a Bradford pear go down there is a sigh of relief. Aahhhhhh! Another one down, thousands to go. Oh well.
Flowers (1): Dan Tenaglia, Missouriplants.com, Bugwood.org
Flowers (2) Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org
Fruit, Leaf, and Tree: Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org