As you all know by now, I am a fan of many “invasive” trees and plants.
Often, their fast growth, food production, nitrogen-fixation, biomass creation and/or other benefits are quite useful in gardens and food forest systems, provided they can be kept under control by the property owner.
But one tree that is pretty consistently hated by everyone is the Bradford pear. Even I didn’t like it, back when I was in Tennessee and saw it as a stupid ornamental that should have been replaced with actual pear trees.
But my opinion has changed, somewhat. On the new property, we have at least a dozen of more Bradford pears growing at the edges of the woods and around the pond. Many of them are still holding onto fruit.
People hate Bradford pears now because they self-seed along fence lines, have weak wood, and, well, because they’ve fallen out of fashion. A few decades ago they were one of the most popular ornamental trees in the South. Now, they’re on the “bad” list.
Yet are they all bad?
Eliza Greenman makes a good case to to contrary in her post In Defense of Bradford Pear:
Every Callery pear growing is automatically the best pear rootstock around. For all of you people out there who are inundated with deer pressure, graft to the Callery pears to any pear you’d like (or Winter Banana apple). Sure, you’ll get lots of leafy re-growth off the trunk for a couple years (which the deer or other livestock eat as tender shoots), but its also really easy to remove new growth with your hands (they pop off) or slightly older growth with pruners, and brand new shoots don’t have thorns. You’ll start to get fruit in 2-3 years.
One of the main reasons why Callery didn’t catch on as a rootstock, aside from root propagation failures and hardiness, is that they don’t produce dessert fruit (fruit meant for out of hand eating). This is the same reason why we’ve lost SO MANY fruit cultivars in the last 100 years. If you weren’t a dessert cultivar chosen by the cooperative extension to be grown in the early 20th century, you were phased out. However, in today’s markets, large fruited Callery pear hybrids really have a chance in fermentation, specifically cider blends and perry (cider made from pears). They are high in sugar (over 16% brix on average for the 200 or so hybridized trees I’ve evaluated), and run the gamut in acidity, tannins, aromatics and unusual characteristics. Since these trees are so disease and pest tolerant, which allows them to grow and produce copious amounts of fruit without the hand of humans or chemicals, they stand to produce the most sustainable fruits and alcohol in the South. We need more people working with them in order to make this happen because they aren’t apples and they need their own methods.
It’s a fascinating read with lots of history and some ideas for use of this pear.
And I’ve been feeling the same way as Eliza, going from dislike for the tree to a certain respect.
Here are my three current uses for it.
As for all the pears on our property, my plan is to graft many of them with good pear varieties in the spring. They’ll make amazing rootstocks, especially the very happy trees growing near the pond.
When you graft onto an existing rootstock, your speed of fruit production is greatly increased over simply planting a new fruit tree. The roots of an existing tree already grow deep and when that sap flows into a new scion, it will BLOW AWAY the growth of a newly planted tree.
My friend Randall is already grafting onto Bradford pears, as you can see in this video we filmed together.
II: Firewood and Smoker Wood
Pear wood is reportedly good for smoking. We have some drying in the carport right now, that I intend to use in our smoker in 2023. It’s also not a bad firewood.
Since we’ll be cutting off a lot of wood from our existing trees when we graft in the spring, that wood will be a good resource both to flavor our meals and to heat us later in the year.
III: Bradford Pear Lumber is Beautiful
Earlier this year Randall gave my son Ezekiel some various wood for him to make cutting boards from. One of the boards he gave him was a beautiful slab, with rippling flame patterns and multiple colors in the grain. “That’s Bradford pear,” he told me. “From the tree out front that broke in half. I put it through the sawmill.”
Some months later I was helping at a church volunteer day that took place at a woman’s house, and was tasked with pruning up a different Bradford pear tree that had broken in a storm. Remembering how cool Randall’s pear had looked, I loaded a large portion of the broken trunk into my van and brought it to Randall’s a couple weeks later.
Here’s a quick clip of what it looked like coming off the sawmill.
Amazing, isn’t it? That first log that Randall milled was not a fluke.
Bradford pear wood is downright beautiful.
Now, lest you think I am a huge fan of Bradford pears, I’m really not.
I would much rather see people plant delicious, edible pears rather than ornamentals.
Yet there is a place for Bradford pear if you can harness what it’s good at: growing in the South and being a great rootstock!
Roll with what you have and reap the harvest.
And remember, what most people think is almost always wrong.