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Tree expert shares concerning details about highly problematic tree in US: 'I had no idea'

"Terrible tree, but so many people don't care because it's 'pretty.'"

"Terrible tree, but so many people don't care because it's 'pretty.'"

Photo Credit: TikTok

If you live in the United States, you've likely encountered plenty of those ornamental trees with the white flowers and the rather distinctive, not-entirely-pleasant odor. As it turns out, that tree is called the Callery Pear (or the Bradford Pear, the name of a common cultivated type), and it is both invasive and terrible.

Content creator Justin Davies (@justinthetrees) recently made a TikTok video all about the history of the Callery/Bradford Pear and how it made its way to the United States. Justin educates his 1.5 million followers with several interesting and unsettling facts about this pervasive plant species (all while making a vase out of a chunk of its wood).

The Callery was brought to the United States in the early 1900s from China to cross-breed with edible-pear trees that had been impacted by blight. Since then, along with its thornless cultivar, the Bradford, it has gained a foothold as an ornamental tree, especially in suburbs.

One of the problems with the tree is the stench of its flowers, which some have compared to rotting fish (and others have likened to a certain bodily fluid that is integral to human reproduction). The video explains that the stench is to attract pollinators. Bradfords are not pollinated by bees or butterflies, but instead by flies, which are attracted to the rotting smell.

The other, even worse problem is that Bradfords — which were thought to be sterile but can cross-pollinate — have become invasive in many of the areas they have been planted, crowding out native tree species and outcompeting them for resources.

This has led several areas to ban planting new Bradford Pear trees. The state of North Carolina has even gone so far as to put a bounty on these trees, offering a free, environmentally beneficial native tree to anyone who chops one down. 

Avoiding Bradford Pear trees may also prevent homeowners from dealing with a dangerous and time-consuming issue in the long run. As Justin pointed out, the trees can be short-lived — only lasting 25 years in some cases — and can weaken, with their branches dangerously breaking off during even mild storms

Bradford Pear trees found few defenders in the comments section of Justin's TikTok video. 

"I had no idea they were pollinated by flies! That got a full body shudder from me," wrote one commenter.

"Arborist here. Thank you for making this video! Terrible tree, but so many people don't care because it's 'pretty,'" wrote another. 

"As someone who delivers packages I always know when I'm in a nice suburb when it smells like rotten fish and has white trees," a third chimed in.

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