It’s been a tough year for Bradford Pears in Durham, reports the Durham Herald-Sun. The main problem? Fire blight:

Two problems have made this one of the worst years in memory for Bradford Pears in Durham, [Michelle Wallace, consumer horticulture agent for Durham County] said.

One is fire blight, a bacterial disease spread mainly by flies when the tree is in bloom. Symptoms include persistent dead leaves, stems and branches. Careful inspection shows sunken cankers that exude a milky-white ooze containing millions of bacteria, which can be spread by wind, rain and pruning.

“Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet,” she said, although the disease can sometimes be pruned out of the tree.

Wallace recommends pruning eight inches below the infected area and removing the dead and diseased wood, but that can be costly and time-consuming, she said. Even with pruning, the tree can become diseased the following year when it’s in bloom.

A second step, which Wallace does not recommend, is spraying the tree with an antibiotic pesticide, which only works when the plant is in bloom.


Bradfords also are being hit with another disease called cedar-quince rust, a fungus that appears on the fruit and looks like orange-pink spores. But Wallace said the fruit is ornamental and not worth treating.

Ultimately, Wallace doesn’t recommend putting a lot of effort into saving Bradford Pears. That common and sensible advise, as they tend to be short-lived anyways. As Alexander Johnson, Durham’s urban forestry manager, notes:

“If I get a call at 2 a.m. to get a tree out of the road, nine times out of 10 it’s a Bradford Pear,” he said. “They don’t handle wind or ice. They’re just a nuisance.”