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Discovering Wood #5: Bradford Pear

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Blog entry by DocT posted 1227 days ago 5671 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 4: Redbud #2 Part 5 of Discovering Wood series Part 6: Belated Safety Week 2011 Post »

While I have been posting duplicate posts of my blog Discovering Wood here at LJ, I have decided to post a text only version here. I try to post picture heavy blogs, and the extra time involved in re-posting the pics is frankly not a good use of time. Please visit Discovering Wood the complete post with pictures.

Bradford Pear

I apologize for the infrequent posts, but I’ve been doing a great deal of research lately. I am still trying to wrap my head around the statistical information I am finding for each species. What do these numbers truly mean to me the woodworker and how will they aid my understanding of a species that I have yet to work with?

One of the trees that I planned to discuss is the Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana). I have a love/hate relationship with this tree. It is one of the species that is hard to find concrete numbers on, and, for this reason, I was planning to delay posting about it even though it is a great follow up to the Redbud, but this week changed my plans.

My home state of Oklahoma is well known for its windiness, but Friday April 15, 2011, was ridiculous! We had 40 mph sustained winds, with confirmed gusts to 70+ mph!!! Are you beginning to see where this is headed?

We have (had) two straggly Pears along our driveway that we should have removed years ago, but they are blocking the view of a telephone pole. Friday, half of one of the trees collided with our house. That was the last straw. I promptly felled the remainder of that tree (and its neighbor). Twenty-four hours later the trees are completely gone. The stumps have been ground. The lawn has been repaired. And the wood has been cut into turning blanks and sealed with Anchorseal. It was not how I had intended to spend my Friday and Saturday, and while the entire episode perfectly illustrates all that I hate about this species, I am quite excited by all of the Pear wood that I now have!

As I said, I have a love/hate relationship with Bradford Pear. I love it once it is wood, but there are so many things that I hate about it as a tree. I try to avoid being negative, but what follows is a short list of my grievances.

First off, let me say that I am using the term “Bradford” Pear quite loosely. They are generically “Callery” Pears with many cultivars, which are supposed to be an improvement to the flowering pear. “Bradford” just seems to be the most common varietal planted around here.

This brings me to my first gripe. This tree has been overplanted in the suburban landscape, at least where I live. I don’t know if landscape architects were initially to blame or if the popularity coincided with the rise of the home improvement big box store, but these trees are everywhere. Granted, they are quite striking with their profuse white flowers in the early spring, but the flowers are absolutely putrid smelling, with an odor similar to decaying flesh. I have even heard that the nectar within these flowers is so thin and of such little value that honeybees will bypass the Bradford unless they have no other options.

My second gripe is that each of these flowers produces a small hard berry (presumably some sort of berry-shaped pear), but interestingly, I have never seen these consumed by birds or other wildlife. They simply rot on the tree and drop off in the late fall, leaving behind a royal, slimy, nasty mess.

My third gripe is that the overall canopy shape is nearly identical from tree to tree. They remind me of a bunch of lollipops jammed into the ground in Candyland. They have very little character!

My fourth gripe is that they are notoriously short lived, with a reported average lifespan of 25 years. Huh…guess how many growth rings my trees had!!! Bradfords must have been very popular in 1986, because there are many mature specimen around here that now look distressed.

The fifth gripe may correlate with the fourth – the wood is brittle. You can count on severe tree damage with any ice storm or wind event. And that is where I stand today. I will discuss this more when I post about the actual wood, but Pear has a very high specific gravity (0.73), which is comparable to Persimmon and only slightly less than Hedge (our hardest domestic hardwood). This may be why the tree is considered brittle. The wood may be too strong to bend and, instead, ruptures catastrophically.

Identification
:

The tree has simple alternate leaves of about 2 ½” with a waxy/shiny appearance and subtly serrated margins.

The bark is smooth and dark gray on young trees and twigs but develops to become neatly and narrowly furrowed.

The fall foliage ranges from orange to purple.

More about the wood of the Bradford in the next post.

-- tracyturnerstudio.com



4 comments so far

View Darell's profile

Darell

421 posts in 2225 days


#1 posted 1227 days ago

Hi Doc. Greetings from Norman. I can assure you that birds do eat those little berries from the Bradfor Pear trees. Until I cut mine down a few years ago I had plenty evidence of that with the purple blobs of bird poop I was constantlly washing off my white Silverado. The birds don’t eat them all though as I’m quite familiar with the mess those berries leave on the sidewalks around here in the fall. I didn’t have a lathe back when I cut that tree down so I never saved any of the wood. I would now though. Collecting wood to turn has become a bit of an addiction. Thanks for the informative post.

-- Darell, Norman, Ok.

View amateur's profile

amateur

89 posts in 1288 days


#2 posted 1226 days ago

The only pear I have ever turned, finished out very pale, almost white. After 9 months or so the color darkened to a very rich and attractive (I think) brown that looks great on our hutch. I know what you mean about the tree itself, though. I think the landscapers see a quick grow, a flower in the spring and fairly thick leaf growth which helps sell a new neighborhood. Mine split at the crotch one still, calm Saturday afternoon, completely unprovoked. Surprised the heck out of me. Thanks for posting.
Sorry about the enormous pic, I wasn’t able to figure out how to make it any smaller.

View Jeff in Huntersville's profile

Jeff in Huntersville

399 posts in 1825 days


#3 posted 1226 days ago

My street in North Carolina was lined with Bradfords when we moved in twenty years ago. The street was beautiful in spring when they were all flowering. Today after many strong wind storms and a few ice storms I have the only one left. The trees with short trunks seemed to be the ones that were vulnerable. Mine has a trunk that’s over six feet high. I looked at the wood from several of these trees and didn’t think about saving any. Not being a wood turner I didn’t think there was enough wood there to build anything. Perhaps when my remaining specimen falls I’ll get something useful to me. By the way, because they’re known to be fragile, no one plants them around here any more.

View Bags's profile

Bags

34 posts in 2142 days


#4 posted 299 days ago

DocT -

I realize that you posted this a number of years ago but I was recently researching a project where I was going to use Bradford pear, saw it and thought I would comment.

I grew up in University Park, MD blocks from the University of Maryland and a few miles from the US Agricultural Center in Beltsville MD. The Bradford Pear tree was developed at Beltsville. In the late 50’s (as I remember) the center wanted to plant the trees in a development to see how they faired. They selected University Park. Initially they were very nice looking and acting trees. National Geographic Magazine did a short article about them (our street was featured on one page while the trees were in bloom). After a number of years and growth in size the trees began to show their ugly side. Storms would break limbs leaving the trees disfigured. The root systems would surface and push up sidewalks. I never really never notice the bad odors.

As a result (over time) most of the trees were cut down because they were so disfigured. There are still a few left in the neighborhood but they don’t look very good and have been replaced with other species.

When the city started to cut down the trees I was able to get a hold of a number of trunks. Some of them were up to 24 inches in diameter and 6 feet long. I had them slab cut and stickered to air dry. They have been drying now for about 30 years. They are in great shape.

One last note: The trees were suppose to be sterile and not able to reproduce. Beltsville was wrong. They are everywhere in the wild.

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