Bradford Pears…bless their hearts

Spring is coming to NC; you can tell by the blooming of the beloved Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana). After the loblolly pine… whose pollen turns everything yellow for weeks…the deer tick and the brown recluse, it’s our most treasured species.

One of my favorite courses at UF was a zoology class that focused on communities and ecosystems. The instructor was one of those guys whose lectures made you actually want to attend class and pay attention vs, say, throwing a frisbee or heading over to Crescent Beach. Slogging through the marshes north of Newnan’s Lake in Gainseville, cataloging and counting plants and animals, learning how they reproduce, their struggle against other species, their strategies to preserve themselves and ensure subsequent generations….all the while, listening to Dr. Feinsinger’s engaging narratives…left a lasting impression on me.

From this, I understand the Bradford Pear’s unique reproductive strategy. While most flowering plants produce sweet-smelling odors that attract pollinators like bees, the Bradford Pear depends on flies. Consequently, its bouquet is not so much that of a floral shop, but rather a combination of rotting carcasses and raw sewage. It’s indescribable, but if you’re out walking and pass one in full bloom, it makes you hold your breath until your eyes are popping and your heart is pounding and finally you give a great gasp and hope you’ve passed the stink zone.

Builders love this invasive species, native to Eastern Asia: It’s cheap, it grows fast, and the flowers look great in real estate photos. Unsuspecting buyers from out of state…once they get past the stench…are dismayed to find major limbs lying on their lawn after storms because the wood is so weak. They only live 20 years and within a decade are in noticeable decline. Most homeowners end up borrowing a chainsaw and in frustration, giving the things the equivalent of a ’60s buzz cut.

So as the sun approaches the vernal equinox and crosses the equator tomorrow, we here in NC don’t need a farmer’s almanac to tell us Spring has arrived. The Bradford Pear is heralding warmer days to come.

Some new folks moved in down the street and I noticed their FSU flag. Think I’ll bring them a potted Bradford Pear as a housewarming present.

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