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Leading Thoughts – May 2018

By J. Eric Smith, TREE Fund President and CEO

I live in downtown Chicago and work in Naperville, Illinois, with about a 70-mile roundtrip home-to-office commute each day. I cover most of that distance on trains, but there’s about six miles each day that I do on foot. While the weather is (finally!) halfway decent this month, my walking experience is still not exactly optimal, since I’m trudging through the funky smell (somewhere between cat urine and spoiled tuna) of the dreaded Bradford, Cleveland Select, and other ornamental pear trees, typically high on the “worst trees” list for arborists and urban foresters.

They are everywhere in and around Chicago, both in planned locations (I look out from my condo over a sea of them in Grant Park, and there are lines of them at Naperville’s train station) and in unfortunate, unplanned sites; the supposedly-sterile invaders have gone feral over the years, cross-pollinating with other pear trees, their often-thorny, always-brittle spawn popping up aggressively as weeds, to the detriment of other species. I grew up in a part of the country that was devastated by kudzu, and there is an increasing awareness that Bradford and related ornamental pear crosses may be an even more disastrous and expensive-to-mitigate plague than the creeping vines that ate the Carolinas.

And yet: in the past year, new sections of the Chicago River Walk have been completed near the confluence of the North and South Forks. I watched the construction and was pleased to see many of the scientific planting principles we espouse being deployed in the preparation stages – only to be disappointed when they ended up putting in ornamental pears! The developers of these new municipal assets must be aware of the fact that they are planting “bad” trees to get a few weeks’ worth of pretty flowers each year, but somehow their life cycle arithmetic and aesthetic considerations still point to ornamental pears. And that’s just wrong.

TREE Fund can play a role in better educating urban and municipal planners, developers, landscape architects, civil engineers and other related professionals to not make such mistakes. In fact, this is the purpose of the Bob Skiera Memorial Building Bridges Fund, which will award grants for programs to educate decision-makers outside of our core arboricultural disciplines on what to do – and what not to do – with our urban and community forests.

We are within about $20,000 of the $500,000 goal to activate this fund in 2019. If you’d consider making a gift to the Skiera Fund, we’ll be better able in the years ahead to fight the blight of bad, bad trees.

 

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