Manage and Identify Bradford Pear

callery pear tree flowers

Alpsdake/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

"Bradford" is the original introduction of Callery pear and has an inferior branching habit when compared to other flowering pear cultivars. It has many vertical limbs with embedded or included bark packed closely on the trunk. The crown is dense and the branches long and not tapered, making it susceptible to breakage. However, it does put on a gorgeous, early spring display of pure white blossoms. Fall color is incredible, ranging from red and orange to dark maroon.

Basic Information

  • Scientific name: Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’
  • Pronunciation: PIE-rus kal-ler-ee-AY-nuh
  • Common name: ‘Bradford’ Callery Pear
  • Family: Rosaceae
  • USDA hardiness zones: 5 through 9A
  • Origin: not native to North America
  • Uses: container or above-ground planter; parking lot islands; tree lawns; recommended for buffer strips around parking lots or for median strip plantings in the highway; screen; shade tree

Native Range

The Callery pear was introduced into the United States from China in 1908 as an alternative to native pears that were subject to severe fire blight. These pears tended to be blight resistant and would grow in nearly every state with the exception of those on the northern and southern fringes of North America. This tree has become invasive over portions of the area of introduction.

Physical Description

  • Height: 30 to 40 feet
  • Spread: 30 to 40 feet
  • Crown uniformity: symmetrical canopy with a regular (or smooth) outline, most individuals having identical crown forms
  • Crown shape: egg-shaped; oval; round
  • Crown density: dense
  • Growth rate: fast

Flower and Fruit

  • Flower color: white
  • Flower characteristics: spring flowering; very showy
  • Fruit shape: round
  • Fruit length: < .5 inch
  • Fruit covering: dry or hard
  • Fruit color: brown; tan
  • Fruit characteristics: attracts birds; attracts squirrels and other mammals; inconspicuous and not showy; no significant litter problem; persistent on the tree

Trunk and Branches

  • Trunk/bark/branches: bark is thin and easily damaged from mechanical impact; stems can droop as the tree grows and will require pruning for vehicular or pedestrian clearance beneath the canopy; routinely grown with or trainable to be grown with multiple trunks; not particularly showy out of season; no thorns.
  • Pruning requirement: requires pruning to develop a strong structure

Other Callery Pear Cultivars

In the Landscape

The major problem with the ‘Bradford’ Callery pear has been too many upright branches growing too closely together on the trunk. This leads to excessive breakage. Use the recommended cultivars above for better landscape management.

Pruning Bradford Pear

Prune the trees early in their life to space lateral branches along a central trunk. This is not easy and a skilled pruning crew is needed to build a stronger tree. Even following pruning by a skilled crew, trees often look misshapen with most of the lower foliage removed and the lower portions of the multiple trunks showing. This tree probably was not meant to be pruned, but without pruning has a short life.

In Depth

Callery pear trees are shallow-rooted and will tolerate most soil types including clay and alkaline, are pest and pollution-resistant, and tolerate soil compaction, drought, and wet soil well. ‘Bradford’ is the most fireblight-resistant cultivar of the Callery pears.

Unfortunately, as ‘Bradford’ and some of the other cultivars approach 20 years old, they begin to fall apart in ice and snow storms due to inferior, tight branch structure. But they are certainly beautiful and grow extremely well in urban soil until then and probably will continue to be planted because of their urban toughness.

As you plan downtown street tree plantings, remember that in downtown sites many other trees succumb before this one due to a variety of reasons, but the Callery pears seem to hang on pretty well despite the problems with branch attachments and multiple trunks.