HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - While Alabama trees wait their turn to bloom, their non-native cousin, the Bradford pear, is already turning thoughts to spring.
"They start very early," says Dr. Rudy Pacumbaba, Extension Specialist at the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.
But looks can be deceiving. "In the state of Alabama it already is classified as an invasive species," Pacumbaba says.
The Alabama Forestry Commission wants you to "say no" to Bradford pear trees, and even go a step further to help it eradicate the trees.
A Facebook post by the commission says the trees began to cross-pollinate and produce "abundant amounts of fruit" spread by birds. That post says the trees should be cut to stumps and immediately treated with herbicides to eliminate a sprouting response.
An article written by a wildlife biologist with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources explains why Bradford pear trees are considered invasive.
The article says ornamental plant, cultivated in 1908 as an unsuccessful attempt to fight a disease in pear trees, can displace or kill native species. It points out how popular the trees are, saying they grow extremely fast, produce flowers quickly and provide great shade but the plant is also fragile, with limbs susceptible to breakage and splitting during heavy periods of wind or snow and ice, and their thorns can be dangerous.
"It's a big hazard if it's in your yard for livestock or for animals and especially for your children and yourselves," warns Pacumbaba
The article says the fruit from most Bradford pear trees are sterile, but once the crown of the tree is damaged, the roots begin to sprout. Those sprouts are reportedly Callery pear trees, and they pop up all around the tree's base. Callery Pear trees produce viable fruit and form a dense thicket of thorny trees.
Many complain of the odor the tree emits, which resembles something of a stale, fishy smell, which is thought to attract pollinators.
Most times, a young tree can be easily dug up from the roots. Pacumbaba says a larger tree would have to be girdled with an inch of bark removed right above the soil line. "Over about a year, the tree will die, but considering the rootstalk itself it is very resilient, you'll have to keep an eye on it."
If you insist on planting the tree, Pacumbaba stresses annual maintenance.
The department suggests people plant trees native to Alabama, rather than Bradford pears: Flowering Dogwood, Eastern redbud, magnolia, wild plum or black cherry. The biologists also suggest any recently-planted seedlings should be dug or pulled up. Larger trees should be cut down and the stump treated with glyphosate or triclopyr. That should keep the roots from resprouting.