Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What is That Smell? Oh, God That's Pretty!

Out the door and along the street there lies a familiar nemesis. Tall, white, and beautiful, round around in the belly. No, I'm not talking about Gerald. Nope, not Katie either. It's Bradford actually, Bradford Pear, also known as Snow White of early Spring.

Have you seen this before? I'm guessing yes.

Unfortunately, at least to my nose, Bradford also smells like a stew of rotting mushrooms and semen. Nevertheless, Bradford Pears Pyrus calleryana have undoubtedly been a staple of all of our childhoods, lining the streets and making us gag as we walked to school, biked away from home, or rolled the window down to peep at Spring dresses.

In the ornamental world however, noses are overlooked in favor of the benefits of planting Bradford Pears. Namely, they are one of, if not the earliest blooming tree, with their white flowers often opening by the end of February. By April, the flowers have fallen to the ground to be replaced by round, glossy green leaves which will turn a winy red by the end of summer. A native of temperate China, the tree is also one of the last species to lose its leaves in autumn. All of the branches sprout out of the trunk in a central location which provides the distinctive pear shape, but this design also makes them susceptible to splitting in high winds, a phenomenon that is all too easy to witness during summer thunderstorms or hurricanes in the South.

For those true Fascinati out there(those who are fascinated), I will continue a bit further so as to blow your mind. Bradford Pears are tolerant of a variety of soil types, drainage levels, and soil acidity, and are also amazingly resistant to sicknesses and blight. Basically, they are on their game when it comes to survival, even thousands of miles away from their native territory. Sadly, the wimpy "pears" that grow on the trees are inedible and wildlife seems to care little for them.

What about those other flowering trees that we see this time of year? Perhaps you are seeing Flowering Cherries, Flowering Crabapples, or maybe some native species.

Here is a Weeping Cherry Prunus sp. on the campus of UNC Chapel Hill.

Even though they are susceptible to a variety of diseases, Flowering Crabapples Malus sp. continue to be a popular flowering landscape plant because of the tremendous show of flowers they provide.

Nicknamed the Breath of Spring, the native Redbud Cercis canadensis can be spotted blooming by mid-April.

Hopefully you don't need me to tell you what this is. Our state blossom, The Flowering Dogwood! Cornus florida. The flower of this species is actually quite small. The large white petal looking things are bracts, modified leaf-like structures. The flowers are also bisexual for all you thrill seekers out there.

1 comment:

  1. that actually was really fascinating. because every spring i always ask, WHY the bradfords? why not cherry trees and crepe myrtles and redbuds?

    also technically the dogwood blossom is our stateflower. i think our state tree is hte loblolly pine?