Sprinkling of yellow on roadsides signals the last bit of winter

Published 2:00 am Sunday, March 4, 2012

The sprinkling of yellow we are seeing now along roadside woods is a sure indication of the last of winter. The yellow is the blooms of Carolina jessamine. I know many folks say “jasmine,” but the two different native vines are correctly Carolina jessamine and Confederative jasmine.

The jessamine blooms first, followed by the white-blooming jasmine. We see lots of wild jessamine, but nowadays Confederative jasmine is more likely to be growing on home trellises, arbors and fences. Over recent decades, there have been more blooms of a different kind at wooded edges and in some unkempt open areas. These are the blooms of hybridized pear trees that grow from the seeds of ornamental landscape pears. The popular Bradford pear trees provide the seeds and birds sow the seeds after eating the tiny fruit.

What we know now as the Bradford pear came about from a U.S. Department of Agriculture project in the very early 1900s. Seeds were brought over from native pear trees in Asia. The goal was to find varieties with disease resistance so our European “eating pears” could be grafted onto the Asian rootstock.

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One seeded tree chosen is of the species calleryana and it came to be called callery pear. Callery rootstock is still used today in grafting pear trees. Because of its great looks and heavy bloom, a callery was released in 1963 as an ornamental tree by the USDA and named Bradford.

All true Bradford pear trees go back to a single tree. Like most fruit trees, it is not self-fertile, meaning any seeds result from cross-pollination and offspring will be different. As with many plants, Bradfords are propagated by rooting cuttings, making them great-great-grandclones of the original.

In some areas of the Midwest, there are serious campaigns to prevent the spread of the seeded offspring of Bradford pears. The Bradford opponents consider the wild seedlings to be invasive plants. The claim is that the trees become thick clumps by sending up sprouts from their roots, thereby crowding out native plants.

Bradford pear trees have several features that account for their popularity. They are fast growing and have near perfect symmetry. And the huge load of white blooms in spring is followed by glossy green leaves all summer and then great fall color. On the downside, Bradfords are not long-lived and they have puny wood that is among the first to split open in bad weather. Plus there are the wild kids.

While I have never been a fan of Bradfords, the stuff some urban foresters and garden writers say about them makes me look like a Bradford tree-hugger. One guy referring to the bad odor of the trees during bloom calls them “tuna on a trunk.” Another, unimpressed with lining streets and driveways with Bradfords, claims they look like “a row of giant Q-tips.”

One dude went so far as to point out Bradfords eventually lose their good shape they had in their early years. To that I say, “Don’t we all, man, don’t we all?”

Terry Rector writes for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District, 601-636-7679 ext. 3.