Was there something different about the Bradford pears this year? Did you see it, too?
Think back – back 8 weeks ago, when the nights were still chilly and the mornings were cool, but the days were warm and you thought Spring is here. There were no leaves on the oaks, but you saw the Bradford pears doing what Bradford pears do: bursting into white blooms to decorate suburban roadsides (and some wildspaces) before most other flora has awakened.
I used to dislike Bradford pears. A lot.
They’re a cultivar of the Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana), which is native to China. Part of what makes them successful as landscape plants also makes the successful as an invasive species: they grow fast… ‘like a weed’. They also produce a ton of fertile little fruits, and their progeny pop up where they do not belong, interbreeding and proliferating.
As an employee of a nature preserve for seven years, I detested the Bradford pear. To me, it was yet another escaped landscape plant that crowded out native, beneficial species.
The Bradford pear has even fallen out of favor with the landscape profession that brought it here and made it so popular in previous decades. The trees are notoriously short-lived, and have brittle branches that break easily in North Texas storms, endangering houses and cars.
In fact, when I googled “Bradford pear” to see if I should capitalize the second word, the top 5 hits were about why this tree is ‘the worst.’ (I like the Grumpy Gardener’s 4 reasons why.)
Even as I type this, a neighbor is chopping down and chipping up a Bradford pear.
I’ve seen reasons to hate the things and not to plant them.
But now I’ve had a few years away from wrinkling my nose at escaped pear trees, away from hand-pulling privet and nandina out of habitats preserved for wildlife. I’ve had a few years of less (much less) travel to wild spaces (no Big Bend or state parks for me lately). I’ve acquiesced to some of suburbia’s siren song, at least for now.
This time, when the pears bloomed, instead of wincing, I wondered.
The trees seemed …different.
They were… beautiful.
I was full of questions. Were the blooms bigger this year? More abundant? Were the trees’ crowns more full for some reason? Had it been a bumper season for trees in the pear family (which is the rose family, Rosaceae)?
Were they blooming earlier, and therefore standing out more than usual? I wondered if my friends involved in Project Bud Burst noticed. And that curiosity made me want to join PBB myself. And that caused me to wonder if Bud Burst is a good citizen science project for families with kids.
I’ve been the surprisingly happy mother-of-one for two years now. The ‘surprisingly’ part is because I wasn’t ever quite sure I wanted kids; it took my husband and me almost 10 years to decide. Then when I had my son everything changed; or rather, I changed, and thoroughly. I realized there was nothing more fulfilling or important to me at that time than raising my child. I wasn’t expecting to feel that way. I wasn’t expecting to want to quit my job, with people I love and have known for years, to dedicate all my time to a little human whom I’d just met. I miss the job, I miss the people more, and I miss my identity as a naturalist – a professional naturalist. Motherhood in our society is fraught with issues, and maybe I’ll write about that someday. And yet, I made the choice, and I still embrace it now.
I’ve embraced motherhood enough that I’ve been willing to add another little primate to our tribe. More on that momentarily.
It was in this new frame of reference, sans profession and with a new begrudging appreciation for the benefits suburbia offers families, that I saw Bradford pears differently.
It was March,
when the nights were still chilly
and the mornings were cool,
but the days were warm
and I thought
Spring is here.
I was traveling home with my husband and child in the car, due to give birth any day to new life. I had my camera with me, and I had been thinking for days, Something is different about these trees this year. …Or is my perception different?
This year I could see why these plants were brought from China. I could see why landscapers wanted to use them, and homeowners wanted to display them. My husband even clipped a branch from a neighbor’s tree and used it as a centerpiece on our kitchen table. The artful shape reminded me of Asian watercolors depicting cherry blossoms (and not coincidentally; cherries are also in the Rosacea family).
I even, shockingly, felt a thrill of joy when I saw saw the escaped pears popping up in wild (but still suburban) forests. Seeing the bright blossoms against the grey branches and skies of late winter was like witnessing hope spring out of the gloom.
We stopped the car in a parking lot, and I stepped out and tried to capture the newness I was seeing.
Here’s a lop-sided Bradford pear in its native habitat, the suburban parking lot.
Here’s a close-up of those strange blooms, which smell like perfume to some, and body odor to others.
And here are the beautiful, blossom-covered branches reaching up to the jewel-blue sky, like hope incarnate.
Maybe this year the blossoms reminded me, subtly, of the fleeting nature of youth. Maybe the don’t-look-away-or-you’ll-miss-it onset of the leaves and shedding of the petals reminded me how fast time changes our circumstances and aspect. Maybe carrying life within me made me more appreciative of all life, invasive species included.
I went home after taking these photos and found our beloved cat, a family member for 22 years, collapsed on the floor. By that evening, she was gone. Only a few days after that, I gave birth to new life, our daughter Evren Jane, named for the Turkish word for “universe” and Jane Goodall. Before she was a month old, the pear petals had all fallen.
Birth. Death. Life. Renewal. Identity, cycles, and changes.
The Bradford Pears were different this year. Or maybe, I am different.
I encourage you to participate in #FieldNotesFriday to see your world a little differently.