South Carolina offers bounty to kill an invasive tree because it smells like rotting fish. At the time, bringing the Bradford pear tree to Maine seemed like a wonderful idea.
The tree, also known as callery pear is a popular ornamental in the state because of its fast growth and early spring displays of white flowers. But it’s also an invasive species with a foul odor that if allowed to establish itself in Maine’s natural setting, may have disastrous consequences for native species.
That is exactly what is occurring in the southern United States right now. It’s grown so bad in South Carolina that officials are intending to make it illegal to sell or buy the tree by 2024, and are offering a bounty to anybody who can remove existing trees. The situation in Maine, according to officials who are keeping a close eye on the species, is not yet as bad as it is in other states.
According to Gary Fisher, state horticulturist of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, “there is enough of it planted here in Maine.” “There have been rumors of it escaping, and a five-year-old report from Portland showed it had been discovered in some natural areas there.”
The Bradford pear is on the five-year update to the terrestrial invasive plant “do not sell” list, which Fish and his colleagues are now working on. It’s also on Maine’s list of plants that are deemed to be severely invasive.
In the early 1900s, the tree was brought from numerous Asian nations to the United States. By the 1960s, it had become the go-to decorative tree for developers in the rapidly expanding suburbs. “It was planted for the early white blossoms,” Fish explained. “What they didn’t comprehend is that those flowers have an unpleasant smell.”
The smell of a grove of Bradford pear trees in full blossom has been compared to rotting fish. “That smell is really hard to describe,” Fish said. “It’s not like crab apples or lilacs — it’s pretty rank.”
When it comes to the Bradford pear, the stench is the least of your worries. “There are a lot of drawbacks,” Fish added. “As near as Connecticut, where it escaped, it’s really sweeping over cleared lands and competing with things like paper birds, aspen and cherries.”
According to Fish, the pear may quickly outcompete and wipe out native species. It’s also structurally deficient, unable to withstand severe snow and ice loads. This implies that trees are falling and branches are breaking, posing a threat to persons and property.
The tree supplies no food for local insects, birds or wildlife because it is non-native to the region. Native pollinators are unable to use all of those blooms. Fish has reached out to colleagues in New Hampshire, where the Bradford pear has been discovered.
“It’s a narrative that keeps coming up,” Fish explained. Because they are so simple to make and affordable, builders and architects decide to incorporate them into subdivisions and other new housing areas. Horticulturists and Maine tree specialists can advise on appropriate native ornamentals to plant in place of the Bradford pear tree, according to Fish.
Despite the pear tree’s potential threat to Maine’s native plants, Fish believes the state will not issue bounties or undertake drastic eradication efforts beyond adding it to the state’s impending do not sell list, which will be released early next year. “If folks have one and are worried about it escaping and causing issues in the Maine ecosystem, they can get rid of it,” Fish said.
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