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Some states want to keep these pretty pear trees from blossoming

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Well, they're certainly pretty right now. In much of the Eastern U.S., those Callery pear trees, also known as Bradford pears, with their white blossoms all popping out - it really makes it look like spring. And yet those flowering trees are not wanted. Three states - Ohio, South Carolina and Pennsylvania - have banned them, and a few other states discourage people from planting. So why no love for this tree? Jessica Damiano is here to explain. She's a master gardener and writer of The Weekly Dirt newsletter and a columnist with the Associated Press. Hi, Jessica.

JESSICA DAMIANO: Hey. Good morning. How are you?

RASCOE: I'm all right. So talk to me about what's the big objection to the Bradford pear?

DAMIANO: So it's important to look back at the history to fully understand why we have a problem with these trees. And it all started after World War II, when the suburbs were first being developed, and the developers were lining those cookie-cutter home blocks with street trees. And the trees that they selected most often was the Bradford Pear, which is a cultivar of the Callery pear, which is a tree native to Asia. And it's a beautiful tree. It has a tight shape with pretty upward-facing branches, glossy leaves.

RASCOE: Yeah, so what is the problem with them? Why wasn't it such a good idea?

DAMIANO: Well, their tight branch structure, which looks pretty, makes them weak. So when there's a storm, it's not uncommon for branches to just rip off and sometimes fly around and damage things like cars. And when they flower, the flowers smell really bad, like, really awful. They smell like rotted fish that's been left out in the sun. Have you ever smelled rotted fish that's been left out in the sun (laughter)?

RASCOE: I can imagine it's a very visual - and you can kind of smell it. Yes, I can imagine (laughter).

DAMIANO: I've never smelled it either, but I think I'm glad. We're fortunate. But I think it paints a picture, right? So the homeowners would then have to spend time, a lot of time, cleaning up these slimy, rotten fruits from their driveway, those sidewalks, their lawns. And they had to keep plucking out saplings because they just grow everywhere. They keep sending up babies, you know? And if you don't keep on top of it, it develops into a thicket like a forest, and you take over a whole property. So it was really a problem. But, you know, the horse was out of the stable, right? And by the 1990s, the trees had spread to roadsides and taken over wild areas, you know, where they were in parks and the side of the road, where they were choking out the native vegetation because birds were eating the seeds and distributing them, you know, as birds do.

RASCOE: So say you have one or two or maybe even three of these trees. Are they hard to get rid of?

DAMIANO: Yeah. Yeah, they're really difficult to get rid of because they have a very strong, extensive root system. So it doesn't really succumb to herbicides. So you can't just, like, put a plant killer on it and kill the tree. And what you have to do is dig it out, but you have to be very careful to get every last bit of the roots out of the ground, or the tree will just grow back and make babies. So if you break the roots when you're digging, which, you know, is pretty likely, and you leave a little piece behind, that's going to send up sprouts for years. You know, but it's not impossible. You just have to be very deliberate and careful when you dig it up.

RASCOE: That's master gardener Jessica Damiano. She writes The Weekly Dirt newsletter. Thank you so much for talking to us.

DAMIANO: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.