Chicago, IL

This Chicago suburb has banned the beautiful (but smelly) invasive Bradford pear tree

Jennifer Geer

Suburban Northlake announced it is digging up its approximately 40 parkway Bradford pear trees and replacing them with a more "suitable tree."

(CHICAGO) Once considered a gorgeous ornamental tree worthy of planting all around Chicago and the suburbs, the Bradford Pear tree, otherwise known as Callery pear, has developed a nasty reputation in the past few years.

Where did Bradford pear trees come from?

The Bradford pear tree originally came from China. By the 1950s, it was a popular ornamental tree widely planted around the country. The beautiful blooming spring flowers and ease of care made the tree a desirable choice for homeowners.

What's wrong with the Bradford pear tree?

They are aggressive spreaders, and the scent of the spring flowering blossoms has been compared to rotting fish. When the tree cross-pollinates, it can spread quickly and take over a landscape. The resulting species may develop long and thick thorns that are difficult to clear.

Why did Northlake plant this invasive species of tree?

According to a Facebook post from February, the Chicago suburb of Northlake inadvertently planted this invasive tree species in 2019 and 2020 as their parkway trees

"Approximately 40 of these trees were planted. The City will remove these trees and replace it with a suitable tree. Homeowners will be advised of the removal and replanting," officials explained.

Is the Bradford pear tree harmful to the environment?

Aside from filling the air with its stinky blooms in the spring, there are other problems with the tree. Experts at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle do not recommend planting the Bradford pear in the Chicago region due to its invasive tendency to spread aggressively.

Another issue, the tree has a weak branch structure and is vulnerable to falling branches and other damage from ice storms.

Sarah Vogel, a horticulture and natural resources educator with the University of Illinois at Urbana Extension program, said, "though individual cultivars are considered self-sterile, they can cross-pollinate to produce fruits and large amounts of viable seed. Because this pear species is adapted to a wide range of environments, it easily spreads and establishes in both naturalized and disturbed areas."

How can homeowners avoid planting an invasive tree?
A Chicago suburban Bradford pear treePhoto by author

The Bradford pear tree can be found all over the Chicago area. Some states are enacting bans on the harmful trees, although they are still legal to buy in Illinois.

However, landscapers and homeowners looking for native trees well suited to the Chicago region should do some research before planting. There are many beautiful native flowering trees to choose from.

For an alternative to the flowering Bradford pear tree, you can check out the University of Illinois at Urbana Extension program's recommendations of the top four spring-flowering trees that are native to Illinois:

  • Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
  • Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
  • Downy Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)
  • Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia)

The Chicago Botanic Garden has some recommendations as well:

  • Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)
  • Star magnolia (Magnolia stellata)
  • White fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus)
  • Apple serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora)
  • Crabapple (Malus)

Go here for the full list.

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Jennifer covers lifestyle content and local news for the Chicago area. New articles published each weekday.

Chicago, IL

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