Are Callery Pear (Pyrus calleryana) Cultivars Invasive?

pearThe Callery Pear is an ornamental tree species from China that hasrecently begun spreading throughout the United States with wild individuals appearing in disturbed sites. A common misconception is that certain cultivated varieties (called “cultivars”; Table 1) of this species, commonly purchased in nurseries and home improvement stores nationwide, are invasive. It is not the cultivar itself that is invasive per se, but rather the problem arises when two different cultivars cross-pollinate. Once this cross-pollination happens, fruits can be produced which are often consumed by starlings which in turn fly off to natural areas where they defecate the seeds (which then can germinate and form wild trees). Another way that wild plants can be produced is if a single Callery Pear tree is not cared for and the rootstock is allowed to sprout (this can also happen if a well-being person nicks a root while they are mowing). If the rootstock is allowed to flower, it can cross-pollinate the main portion of the tree and fruits can develop.

So which cultivars are the cause? This is exactly what my lab has been studying. We have been conducting hand-pollinations between various cultivars and we also have a way to identify the parents of wild plants using their DNA. In short, the answer is that any cultivar that produces viable seed and/or ovules can serve as a parent of wild offspring. So the problem in not in any given cultivar, but rather in the fact that two or more cultivars may be planted together. This is different from several other cases where a given cultivar of one species may have invasive tendencies but not other cultivars of the same species.

For those of you who love your Callery Pear trees, there is still hope. First, trees can be treated with certain chemicals to reduce or even eliminate fruit production – but you have to do this every year. Second, horticulturalists are now working on a sterile cultivar of Callery Pear (now known as ‘Chastity’), which if truly sterile, it could potentially reduce formation of wild populations.

So why should we care about this problem? There are many reasons, but one is that many cities and towns across the United States are now having to spend taxpayer money removing the wild pear trees from along roadways, parks, and residential areas where they are starting to appear. These wild trees outcompete other species (including many natives), interfere with succession, and also are not too pleasant to be around since a number of wild trees produce sharp thorns. Wild populations are historically a problem in the Southern and Eastern US where different cultivars of pears have been planted the longest, but here in Ohio we are now starting to see more wild populations appearing. The Callery Pear is one of the most popular urban street trees planted in the United States – what this means is that as more people plant these different cultivars, we will see more fruits produced, and more wild populations appear. Thus the issue of wild pear trees will be around with us for quite some time to come.

Table 1. List of cultivars of Pyrus calleryana, including the year each became commercially available, the site of origin where they were first developed, United States patent or trademark number, and the source of the cultivar, if known. Note that references with “SPI” refer to collection accession numbers from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Cultivar Approx. year of availability Site of origin U.S. patent (PP) or trademark (R) Source
Bradford* 1960 Glenn Dale, MD none Chinese seed purchased in Nanking, China in 1919 (SPI 47261); original tree planted at the USDA station (Santamour and McArdle 1983).
Chanticleer®* (Cleveland Select, Stone Hill, Select, Glenn’s Form) 1965 Olmsted Falls, OH & Corvallis, OR PP2489
Original tree planted in Cleveland, OH was derived from commercial seed purchased in 1946; synonymous cultivars likely propagated from same street tree (Santamour and McArdle 1983).
Rancho* 1965 Olmsted Falls, OH PP2092 Unknown
Avery Park 1970’s Corvallis OR none Originated from a population of P. calleryana seedlings planted in Avery Park, Corvallis, OR
Aristocrat®* 1972 Independence KY PP3193
Chinese seed collected by Meyer; selected from P. calleryana seedlings in 1969
Redspirea 1975 South Brunswick township, NJ PP3815  ‘Bradford’** X unknown pollen parent
Valzam (Valiant®) 1975 Perry, OH PP8050
‘Cleveland Select’ X unknown pollen parent
Princessa 1976 Olmsted Falls, OH none Unknown
Whitehouse* 1977 Glenn Dale, MD none ‘Bradford’ X unknown P. calleryana parent at USDA Station; original tree destroyed during clearing a field for cultivation.
Autumn Blaze* 1978 Corvallis, OR PP4591 Parent originated from Chinese seed from Reimer’s 1917 or 1919 collection (possibly from SPI 45592, part of which was given to Reimer; Westwood 1980)
Trinity®*  (XP-005) 1978 Portland, OR PP4530
Purchased seed
Grant St. Yellow abt. 1980 OR none Unknown
Capital* 1981 Washington D.C. none ‘Bradford’ X unknown P. calleryana parent
Edgewood® (Edgedell) 1997 DuPage County, IL PP10151
P. calleryana X P. betulifolia(found growing in a cultivated area)
Veyna abt 2004 Visalia, CA PP15299 ‘Aristocrat’ X P. kawakammiiunknown cultivar
Cambridge abt 2003 Cambridge City, IN applied Unknown
Earlyred unknown Vincennes, IN none ‘Bradford’ X unknown pollen parent
Jaczam (Jack®) 1999 Perry, OH R2708807 Unknown
Jilzam (JillTM) 1990’s Perry, OH none Unknown
Cleprizam (Cleveland Pride®) 1990 Perry, OH R1683475 Unknown
Bursnozam (Burgandy SnowTM) 1990’s Perry, OH none Unknown
Fronzam (FrontierTM) 1990’s Perry, OH none Unknown
Gladzam (Galdiator®) 1993 Perry, OH R2708808 Unknown
Mepozam (MetropolitanTM) 1990’s Perry, OH none Unknown
New Bradford® (Holmford) 1996 Boring, OR R2034326 Unknown

* Valid cultivar name, as of 1983 (Santamour and McArdle 1983).
** Genetic tests do not support this cultivar as a potential parent (Culley and Hardiman, unpubl. data). Note: Cultivars of species other than Pyrus calleryana are not shown here. These include P. faurieri (e.g. ‘Korean Sun’) and P. betulaefolia (e.g., ‘PzazzTM’ and ‘Paradise’ [also known as ‘DancerTM’ and ‘Southworth’]).

References: Santamour FS, McArdle AJ. 1983. Checklist of cultivars of Callery Pear (Pyrus calleryana). Journal of Arboriculture 9:114-116. Westwood MN. 1980. ‘Autumn Blaze’ ornamental pear. HortScience 15:830-831.|

Callery Pear entry in Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas (2002)
Meyer’s Original Photos and Correspondance – Special Collections of the National Agricultural Library
“Who Let the Pears Out?” by Prof. Jan Haldeman