The Slowly Disintegrating Tree

One of the two Bradford pear trees in our front yard has been slowly falling apart since a chunk of it was blown down by the remnants of Hurricane Ike that blew through here a few years back. Another chunk of it fell down today, and it must have been ready to fall. It was windy but not that windy. So fortunately no one was near it when it decided to tumble gravity-wise. So now the remaining tree has a distinct “V” shape. The good news, I suppose: Now we’ll have firewood for summer cookouts.

Update: Another chunk fell down in the night. This tree is doomed.

36 Comments on “The Slowly Disintegrating Tree”

  1. The first thing I did when I bought my house is take a chainsaw to the bradfords in the front yard…

  2. Bradford pears are notorious for this sort of thing. Can’t even plant them in Hoboken; there’s an ordinance. It’s partly because they were so popular years ago that everyone planted them, and there are just too many; a Bradford pear blight would wipe out a substantial fraction of the trees in Hoboken—but also because the city keeps having expenses from dealing with the branches falling off and smashing people’s windshields.

  3. Give the wood a couple of months to dry out. That is, if you’re using it for cooking.

    Another plus – it’s an excuse to use your chainsaw.

  4. We had to have a Bradford Pear removed 3 years ago. First, a big branch fell toward the house. It was too small to hit the house and made a great climbing step for the kids. Next, a big branch fell and narrowly missed my brother’s car. Finally, a big branch fell and smashed another tree we had planted. The next branch was pointing directly at the house, and WAS big enough to hit it. The boys cried when the tree was cut down :-( It was 29 years old; Bradford Pears are rubbish.

  5. I know little about pear nomenclature so my first thought was “that’s what I call a locally sourced tree”.

  6. You’re lucky the tree is so far from your house. I’m in the same precarious situtaion thanks to the halloween Blizzard we had here in NY last year. I have an ancient ancient oak at the top of my driveway that lost 3 tree sized branches in that storm. Ine narrowly and I mean by less than 6 inches, missed my motorcycle and the other two fell right across the middle of the long driveway, effectively sealed off the driveway until I get hold of someone with a chain saw. Luckily I had parked ny truck at at its foot
    A few bent hangers-on still hover above. Now whenerever the words heavy winds or heavy rain are in the forecast I park at the foot of the driveway. A mother of a branch may still fall on the car but at least it won’t be trapped. How’s that for sound reasoning?

  7. I hate Bradford pears with the burning passion of a thousand fiery suns, for just the reason you mentioned. Every time there’s a storm around here, I ALWAYS see Bradford pears with broken branches. Always. Way too fragile for the use they’ve been put to around here.

  8. san Antonio put 2 Arizona ashes in every yard 50 years ago. they die off in that time. plant some fruit Trees. they’ll at least propagate .

  9. Bradford pears suck. We had a beautiful one that my wife trimmed and trimmed and trimmed — and then in ~1987 a micro-burst split the damn thing right town the middle.
    We have a 25 YO aristocrat pear in our backyard. Similar, but not near as sucky as Bradfords.
    Seriously, don’t plant Bradford pears — they suck.

  10. I think contractors put in Bradford pears because they “take” pretty well and grow quickly, and are inexpensive, in order to give a new development an established neighborhood look. From what I’ve read, they are good for about 10 years, then become susceptible to splitting and dropping limbs. The flip side is that a lot of birds love the fruit, which generally stays on the tree even as it ripens then dries out, so they’ll have food even in winter in many places. Our Bradford attracted bluebirds, cardinals, and cedar waxwings all winter long.
    When it does become a problem, though, I will remove it and have another type of tree put in.

  11. Has the possible involvement of cyber-beavers been definitely ruled out?

  12. Maybe Ents are the arboreal equivalent of Pak protectors. The right nutrient comes along mixed with a properly timed lightning strike. A few branches innocenctly drop off or so it seems. Remember, the pear is not on Scalzi’s side because Scalzi is not completely on the pears side, if you take my meaning.

  13. The agriculture major in me leaps to the fore. 1) You might consider having the tree evaluated by a certified arborist. 2) You might consider planting a pear tree with edible fruit. Asian pears are luscious and extremely pest and disease free. If you plant one now, it will have a few years of growth on it by the time the Bradford pear disintegrates. Here in the Pacific Northwest, the Master Gardeners all recommend Raintree Nursery, which has a really great catalog (my daughter and I fight over who gets to read it first). Raintree also has a fabulous website. They ship nationwide, and have an amazing variety of fruit trees. You should check with your local Master Gardeners/County Extension agent to make sure that the type and variety of tree you plan to plant will do well in your area.

    Thus endeth the Agricultural neepery.

  14. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Fruit wood is not for fireplaces! If it is not big enough for turning into useable trinkets it is at least equivalent to apple wood for smoking foods on the grill.

    I hate to see trees die, I have a oak in my yard thats at least 70 years old & this spring it has no leaves above about 8 feet on the trunk. It is going to have to come down soon (its spread over the house) but it makes me heart sick because I will not live long enough to see its replacement grow to that size. I have 9 others as well as a couple of maples but each one is unique and irreplaceable in its own way.

  15. I’m so sorry you’re losing a beautiful tree that you obviously love but… as others have noted, it might be for the best. The breeders who created that hybrid strain of pear didn’t give them nearly enough time for testing, and 30 years is really their upper limit of lifespan. Not so great for a tree.
    I would highly recommend looking into a Dogwood, Hawthorne, or a Red or Sugar Maple to just replace it. All beautiful, long-lived, and non-brittle native trees.

    Some brilliant city planner about 20 years ago must have thought that spreading them about in the DC area was a great idea, and since then they’ve invaded everywhere. As a hybridized Chinese species with (as you’ve noted) a tendency to fall apart in large and unwieldy chunks and also to out-compete much nicer native species, this is a terrible thing. They also send out spiky little runners when planted next to pavement, which is yet another great reason to plant them around roads and parking lots. Obviously.

    I also have a particular enmity for the fragrance of their flowers. It’s like a combination of bleach and rotting fish. :(

  16. Definitely consider taking Dana’s advice in comment #1. Smoking with bradford pear wood is one of the best uses I’ve found for the trees. It is especially good with any pork . . . but might I also suggest turkey breast? Dang, that stuff is flippin’ awesome.

  17. I’d really suggest you have a professional service chop it down. Like you said, you were lucky that no one was near it when it decided to drop bits off, and since it’s on your lawn the town can’t prevent you from taking it down. (We lost a car when the tree on the little strip of grass in front of our sidewalk — town property — decided to fall on a clear windless day. We had complained to the town about that dead tree for two years prior.)

  18. The downside of wildlife enjoying the Bradford fruit is that they spread little invasive Pyrus calleryana seedlings hither and yon. A nice alternative would be one of the native crab apples or hawthorns. They also give you flowers in Spring and attractive fruit in autumn/winter.

  19. Callery Pears (Pyrus calleryana) of which Bradford, Aristocrat and other ornamental pears are varieties, are by nature forest trees, not stand alone trees. When they are placed in the open, they are all susceptible to breakage, although the Bradford is worst of all because of its narrowly uptrending branching pattern (which is what has made it so popular in the first place). Pear wood is generally hard, so if not openly exposed to winds most pears can live for a century or more.

    Planting cloned varieties such as Bradford and Aristocrat, however, is the landscaping equivalent of monoculture (as noted above). Just as a fungal disease can sweep through thousands of acres of monocropped corn or soybeans, so can a tree disease spread through a city and wipe out the landscape (think of American elm, American chestnut, Green and White ash, etc.).

    My suggestion for a lawn tree? Think of the future and plant a white oak. With any luck, it’ll be there in time for our country’s quadricentennial.

  20. In a strange twist of fate, the Bradford Pears on my street survived the Harvest, Alabama tornadoes last April 27th. The maple trees didn’t. Of course, I have maple trees in my front yard. I am now the proud owner of a V shaped maple tree, as is the neighbor across the street. All my Bradford Pear neighbors have lovely, properly shaped trees.
    (My neighborhood was 3/4 miles south of an EF5 tornado and 3/4 miles north of an EF2 tornado and spared of any major damage other than no power for a week.)

  21. This is an ongoing, very slow motion but ongoing nevertheless, political issue where I live. St. Louisans LOVE Bradford pear trees, almost as much as they love sugar maples, both for the same reason: they’re cheap, fast-growing shade trees that love our climate and soil so much that they require no care or maintenance, and that, at various times in the year, look beautiful.

    Some years ago, after a wave of tree-related problems, both the city and the county hired professional foresters, and they started lobbying for region-wide bans on planting either sugar maples or Bradford pears. There is no reasonable chance that this ordinance will ever pass, but they had a good reason. Look at that tree. Now imagine that somebody planted it with 20′ or 30′ of a house, which St. Louisans keep doing. Fast-growing shade trees are short-lived. Within 30 years, they fall down … onto whatever is nearby. The only way to prevent that is to take them down when they reach end of life, which (because they’re so tall and so broad) typically involves bringing in a crane, which is expensive enough that people can’t afford it so they just wait for the tree to come down and smash a house.

    When I was a homeowner, I was as guilty as anyone else, although I did have the good sense to plant mine at the street side, not right by the house. But it’s hard to convince yourself to plant a slow-growing hardwood in America. For one, you’ll never live to see the shade. But more than that, there’s also no reason to be confident it’ll live that long, no reason to think that some developer won’t come along and knock it down before then.

  22. Ah, bradford pears. They lined the streets of my parent’s neighborhood with them when they built the place. I think maybe 5-10 of the original 30 or so remain standing today. One wonders how exactly trees so incredibly brittle manage to survive in the wild for any length of time. (Ah, I see. They usually only survive in a deep forest with other trees protecting them from wind. Brilliant.) The wood give a pretty enough scent on it’s own or in the fire, though in my parent’s experiments it wasn’t terribly great for carving. Don’t know if it was too soft or hard or what. Maybe it’d be good for something else craft wise.

    Good luck with yours, and just one but of advice. If you get rid of them don’t replace them with silver maples. Those bastards are like water seeking battering rams of death to your water and sewage lines.

    Oh, one last bit of advice. Be careful sending the wood out of state if you decide to do that for whatever reason. I had a neighbor get in trouble for doing it recently, something about the emerald ash borer quarantine. Apparently the whole state has them now so it’s ok to move wood around the state but people still get worked up if you send it to other states.

  23. Weird. When the freak snowstorm hit Massachusetts last winter before any trees had dropped their leaves, the one tree on my block that didn’t lose branches was a Bradford.

  24. Several years ago, planting Bradford Pear trees became kind of a suburban fashion around the Dallas area. They’re rotten trees. Fast growing, true – but that means they’re weak. And the branches grow at very acute angles to the trunk, which practically scream “I’m gonna split off in the first serious storm.” Texas garden guru Neil Sperry abhors them and encourages the planting of native trees (for us, that’d be oak trees of various sorts – red oak, white oak, etc…). The only sorta fast growing, non-native shade tree he likes is the Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis).

  25. Just put a red shirt on it and let the natural consequences take their course….

  26. My parents in Fairborn had a Bradford that grew back twice—once half the tree broke off, then it grew back, and then 5/6 of the tree broke off leaving only one branch, then it grew back, then the whole thing broke off at the trunk and they finally had it removed. Then last year one of the Cleveland pears broke in half, taking out the fence, and we’d thought the Cleveland pears would do better than the Bradford. Alas. The ability to grow back is impressive though.

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