As spring steadily creeps back across West Chester, there’s a familiar smell in the air. Familiar, but not necessarily good. The white petals of the Callery pear, also known as the Bradford pear, are back on campus, bringing along their distinct foul odor. Out of confusion, I decided to try and figure out what could have made someone decide to plant such oppressively aromatic trees. I ended up finding a larger set of problems beyond an unpleasant scent.
The Callery pear was initially native to China and Vietnam until it was introduced in the 1960’s by the United States Dept. of Agriculture as an ornamental landscape tree. Because of their simplicity to transport and plant, these trees quickly became popular for many different customers who needed a tree that was affordable and fast-growing. Because of this, it didn’t take long at all for Calleries to end up almost anywhere, from places like city streets to our own campus.
When it comes to downsides, there are more than meets the eye (or nose). Bradford pears are known to be very unstable after growing past a certain height, causing branches and other parts of the tree to fall and damage things unlucky enough to be too close. While this wouldn’t matter in a forest per se, consider how these trees are most often found in shared public spaces, such as parks or roadways. The smell, however, is the most well-known attribute of this plant. It has been compared to rotting fish, as well as many other unsavory things. The scent from this tree drifts a remarkable distance, no doubt aided by the circumstance of being planted in large numbers and closely together.
The worst part of these trees, however, is their invasive nature. Since they were taken from their native environment and brought to one with no competition for its own niche, the trees have taken over enormous areas of land with their ability to quickly spread and take over. Invasive species of any kind mean trouble for ecosystems, but imagine how bad this problem is when the invasive species is deliberately planted in large numbers all over the country.
Because of this, some places are finally beginning to take action against this smelly threat to our environment. Pittsburgh has outright banned the tree, while the state of Ohio is set to place a statewide ban on the tree in the upcoming months. The ban will apply only to the sale of and planting of trees, so any of the ones with roots in the ground already won’t be affected. This is, however, a step in the right direction by the state government. Our own state legislature has begun to phase out the use of the tree, to the absolute elation of my tortured nostrils. The state of California has urged the public to not purchase or plant the trees, and plans to enact a ban similar to the aforementioned states in 2024.
While it seems to be a pretty minor issue, this odd phenomenon is an important lesson. What we have here is a rare opportunity to look at how we formulate plans to deal with invasive species without the pressure of enormous ecological consequences being so immediate. We can assess our management strategies now and determine what’s going to be most effective in the future. With new invasive threats becoming more and more common, strategies developed by projects like banning these trees are absolutely invaluable. Hopefully, as their foul scent begins to fade, we can replace them with native counterparts and rebuild our ecosystem with fewer trees that stink.
Henry Campbell is a third-year English major. HV933776@wcupa.edu