Written by BY BEN HUGHES, CNN
In 1918, human activity first despoiled the South American specimen of the Bradford pear tree.
Its crown was stripped, limbs stripped and leaves drooped as it lay neglected. Most likely diseased, Bradford pear trees have been found with limbs matted with rotting root stems and decayed branches.
Flowers have begun to choke off all of its eyes as their attraction overwhelms the tree, prompting it to hide itself in bud. This is in contrast to the more robust, regal specimen in Northern Europe, where the tree’s robustness and renowned wildflower popularity make it considered desirable.
South America and the Middle East have long held a mysterious reputation for beauty, partly due to the unsung contributions of native flora, such as the Bradford pear tree. It was named in 1928 and is considered one of the most important plants in the Middle East.
It came to prominence because of its ability to attract honeybees, according to a 1951 article in the Royal Horticultural Society’s journal. A Michigan beekeeper, Harold Guzik, began planting Bradford pear trees on Michigan’s south shore in the 1920s and was one of the first to find the plant had the potential to attract bees.
This novel attribute, dubbed the “Bradford pear bee,” had been considered the general uniness of the hardwood, until Guzik began cultivating the myth. Poetry, and religion, have also played a part in encouraging the planting of Bradford pear trees as well as the folklore about its special nature.
(From L-R) French author Jean Gautier de Jacob, English writer, poet and gardening expert in the 1920s William Lamond and American poet, theologian and herb expert and naturalist Frederick Thompson were members of the international team which found the Bradford pear tree was a unique species. Courtesy the icharia
For centuries, the Bradford pear tree’s strange features have played a part in its reputation. Unfortunately, a recent surge in interest in the South American specimen might be the same explanation behind this disturbing (but not necessarily original) confusion.
The Bradford pear tree recently gained popularity after attracting Leonardo Da Vinci’s daughter Elettra to join Prince Charles and Camilla at a World Heritage Site in Geneva, Switzerland. The visit was credited as setting the ball rolling for her website, Elettra Da Vinci, dedicated to promoting appreciation of endangered plants and animals.
Commentators online have jumped on the hype surrounding Da Vinci’s visit and claimed that there is no such plant as the Bradford pear tree. It’s a claim that is not based on proven fact.
The Bradford pear tree isn’t a new plant. It has been around since the mid-18th century, so the current question is whether it is a species or a series of species that could only be found in the South American specimen.
Well-known plant experts who were contacted for this story such as Professor John Jones, Research Chair in Botany and Sustainable Plant Sustainability at the University of Lincoln, were dismissive of this claim.
“It is possible that it (the Bradford pear tree) could be a wider family of plants but I think that is unlikely,” Jones told CNN. “The Bradford pear tree is unique because it flowers only once in its life and has no seeds.”
“It is now a dying plant. It has, in fact, virtually nothing that is useful left at all,” he said. “Many people are thinking that this is just some lucky chap who found it and grew them well and made them interesting, but it is simply not true.”
In Britain, the Bradford pear tree has been confined to acres of managed parks across the country in an attempt to preserve its unique characteristics. This is not a permanent solution, however, as it’s been proven that there are other Bradford pear trees that have managed to remain at a native level with just a little care. It’s potential to expand its population if species confusion were to rear its head again should be taken seriously.
With so much uncertainty swirling around the South American specimen, its relative strength and continuing success depends on how it deals with external pressures. Next to the more stoic appearance of the northern specimen, Bradford pear trees in the South American landscape look like a scene from “Jurassic Park.” It is time that their delicate life was celebrated for the same kind of self-preservation as the northern one.