Pyrus, We Have a Problem: National Perspective on the Runaway Callery Pear

Callery pear foliage and fruit. Photo by Brett O’Brien

I moved from Rochester to the Hudson Valley in 2010. In the eight years since, I’ve noticed a steady proliferation of escaped Callery pears in the Valley. From one undeveloped bowl of land at a busy corner in my town emerges a cloud of white in the spring and some admittedly striking fall color come late October/early November. The problem is that not much else is growing there now, and many of these volunteer trees have reverted to thorniness, creating giant impenetrable thickets.

Callery pears have a mixed rating on wildlife value; on the one hand, bees and other insects visit the flowers in spring and a few species of songbirds eat the fruit after it softens in the winter. On the other hand, Callery pears do not support caterpillars in any significant numbers, so they do not provide adequate food for baby birds the way that oaks and other native trees do.

From University of Delaware Professor Doug Tallamy, Author of Bringing Nature Home
From University of Delaware Professor Doug Tallamy, Author of Bringing Nature Home

Why are self-sterile cultivars of Callery pear producing fruit? One way it happens is when fertile pear understock sprouts, flowers, and produces viable pollen. Another: by the late 1990s, the introduction of new Callery pear cultivars beyond ‘Bradford’, cultivars like ‘Aristocrat’ and ‘Chanticleer’, led to an unexpected dilemma: in areas where large numbers of Callery pears were planted, the self-sterile cultivars starting pollinating one another. Then came the fruit, then came bird dispersion of the fruit … and “Pyrus, We Have a Problem.” 

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