© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Midwestern states consider bans of the popular – but invasive – Bradford pear tree

Callery pear trees line a street in Kansas City, Missouri. The popular ornamental species is highly invasive, harming birds and insects.
Celia Llopis-Jepsen
Kansas News Service
Callery pear trees line a street in Kansas City, Missouri. The popular ornamental species is highly invasive, harming birds and insects.

At least three states have banned these trees outright, and others discourage the public from adding them to their yards.

Ohio became the first state in the country to ban the popular but invasive Callery pear trees — a species usually sold under cultivar names such as Bradford, Cleveland Select and Chanticleer.

Now legislation is being proposed in Missouri for a similar ban, while the Kansas Department of Agriculture also considers how to curb the spread of the popular but invasive ornamental pear trees.

The Missouri proposal would prohibit nurseries from selling or distributing several invasive species, including the Callery pear, Japanese honeysuckle and climbing euonymus. The proposed legislation would take effect Jan. 1, 2025.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture's proposal would prevent anyone from bringing a Callery pear into the state or moving one within the state, as of Jan. 1, 2027.

Callery pears have been popular for decades because of their white flowers in spring and their red foliage in fall.

But they’re escaping cities and suburbs and spreading into prairies and woods, where they have few predators and so outcompete native plants.

A photo shows a field full of callery pears near Manhattan, Kansas.
Kansas Forest Service
The Kansas Forest Service has circled all the Callery pear saplings in this photo of a pasture near Manhattan, Kansas.

Ohio's ban took effect in early 2023, and Pennsylvania and South Carolina will soon follow suit. Pennsylvania's ban goes into effect in February, while South Carolina's ban takes effect in October. And public agencies and university extension departments in other states, such as Oklahoma and Minnesota, discourage people from planting the species.

Entomologists such as Douglas Tallamy have increasingly appealed to the public to avoid Callery pears and certain other nonnative species that undercut the food web for insects and birds.

A native goldenrod or wild plum can feed scores of caterpillar species, they point out, while a nonnative Callery pear cannot.

The pears have also become a land management headache for public agencies and private owners of large properties. The tree now grows wild in at least half of Kansas counties, spreading into rural areas along highways and taking over pastures.

Unlike many other trees, this species doesn’t die if it’s chopped down or burned. That means land managers have to use herbicide.

Each year, workers at Johnson County Park and Recreation District spend many hours trying to root out the species on public land.

Kansas’ agriculture department could adopt the proposal this year, but it wouldn’t enforce the restrictions — which carry potential criminal penalties for violators — until 2027.

The proposal is called a quarantine. Property owners wouldn’t be required to cut down existing Callery pears, but no one would be allowed to move live ones, their seeds or their rootstock.

That would mean no bringing these things from other states or selling or giving them to someone within Kansas.

Kansas and Missouri conservation groups and local governments have launched a public education campaign in recent years to explain why the trees cause problems.

Each spring, they team up to give out free native alternatives — such as redbud and serviceberry trees — to homeowners who cut down a Callery pear on their property.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

This story was produced in partnership with Harvest Public Media, a collaboration of public media newsrooms in the Midwest. It reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues.

KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.