I admit that when spring-time comes — if it ever comes, that is — I’m a sucker for flowering trees. In this part of the country, that most likely means pear trees, bursting with delicate white flowers. In many suburban neighborhoods, landscapers have long been planting Bradford pear trees as ornamental touches, almost as a matter of course.
But is planting so many pear trees a good idea?
This guy is one of an increasing number of people who argue that it isn’t a good idea, and we’ve got to stop. He notes that while pear trees are very tempting when you’re trying to turn what used to be a farm field into something that looks more like an attractive neighborhood — because they grow incredibly quickly, and flower besides — they aren’t a viable long-term solutions for any yard. Bradford pears have one of the weakest branch structures of any tree, with a trunk that splits into a V, besides. The trees grow like Topsy, to be sure, but ultimately a strong storm will come along and the trees will break apart. That’s exactly what happened to the pear trees in our old house in New Albany. We were just lucky that the limbs crashed into the yard, rather than knocking down part of the house.
But apparently there’s more to it than just having to cut down a split tree and figure out what to do with the stump. Bradford pears were supposed to be sterile, but they actually aren’t. They’ve cross-pollinated with other varieties of pear trees, apparently causing a proliferation of pears in some neighborhoods — and, in so doing, they are crowding out other, native trees that might not have those fine blossoms, but are sturdier are more suited to the environment. Even worse, some of the pears being produced as a result of the cross-pollination are thorny monstrosities that are almost impossible to get rid of. That’s why Ohio has put Bradford pears on the list of invasive species that can’t be sold in the Buckeye State.
So if you’re going to do some landscaping, consider whether you really want to plant that Bradford pear, or for that matter any ornamental pear tree. It turns out that those white flowers come at too high a price.
When we moved in to our house we had our back yard landscaped. Kish hates direct sunlight, so a key element of the design was a new tree planted at one corner of the patio. It was supposed to grow tall, leaf out, and provide lots of the glorious shade that Kish likes so well.
For the first year and a half, things went according to plan. The tree grew like crazy and looked to be doing fine. Then late last summer, the tree started to visibly struggle. Beginning at the top of the tree, the leaves wilted and died. We hoped that the tree would recover this spring, but the top half remained dead and the only new leaves appeared at the base of the tree trunk. As a last-ditch salvage effort, the landscapers cut off the dead top part of the tree — leaving us with the pathetic looking elongated stump shown above — in hopes it would spur new growth at the bottom of the tree. Unfortunately, that effort also failed. Our little tree has given up the ghost.
I like trees. I hate to see them struggle and I hate to see them die. This tree death is particularly weird because there’s no apparent cause. It wasn’t struck by lightning, and every other plant and shrub in our back yard is thriving. I guess sometimes death just happens.
The fine Georgia O’Keeffe museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, teaches that beauty can be found just about anywhere — in skyscrapers, in flowers, in barns, in the rugged landscape of New Mexico . . . and in trees. So when I left the museum and saw this tree framed against the adobe walls of the museum, with the sunshine etching an intricate shadow on the wall, I had to let my inner O’Keeffe snap this photo.
I freely confess it: I am a big fan of trees. I’m not sure exactly why, but there is something about them that is deeply, intuitively appealing. Some deeply ingrained, inherited memory from our distant, arboreal past, perhaps?
And when I run across a truly great tree — like this one found at one corner of Schiller Park — I can’t help but stand in mute admiration, taking in the leafy canopy, the stout trunk, and particularly the powerful and graceful arc of one impossibly long limb stretching out to shade the grass beneath. It’s the kind of tree you could sit beneath on a warm summer’s day and happily study on a daydreamy afternoon.
Lately they’ve been taking down trees along the Yantis Loop and Route 62. It’s a sad occasion for the walkers, cyclists, and joggers who use the path.
For the most part, the now-missing trees weren’t the kind of beautiful, spreading trees about which Joyce Kilmer might wax rhapsodic. Instead, many were what Kish would call “field trees” — the kind of scrawny trees that farmers might use to visibly mark the boundaries between one field and another. Still, they provided some shade, protection from the elements, screening from the roadway and the noise of passing cars, and the sense that you were walking through a rustling tunnel of green leafiness.
Now they are gone, and there are just sorry, straw-covered spots on the ground where the trees once stood. As I said, it’s a sad occasion.