Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Over the weekend I worried about pirates, job losses, recession, war, and Callery pear trees. I can do little about the first four, so I’m concentrating on the trees. Some NYC blocks look like fairyland in full bloom. I counted a stretch on Third Avenue with 15 of these Pyrus calleryana trees marching along the curb, three blocks in a row. Down every side street there were more. That’s when I started to worry. What happens when a new pest or disease decides to favor Pyrus species?

The latest census of street trees done by the NYC Dept. of Parks and Recreation in 2005-2006 listed the Callery pear as the third most common species at almost 11% of all trees, led only by the London plane tree at 15.3% and the Norway maple at 14.1%. No pests or rampant diseases attack Callery pear trees now but…In the seventies and eighties I was living and working in Pottsville PA. It was an ugly coal town, redeemed by huge elms and chestnuts planted along the streets. When realtors touted ‘old shade’ they didn’t lie. Dutch elm disease and chestnut blight claimed most of these trees, almost overnight. In front of my office in the town square all the trees fell victim. A young architect started a collection to plant new trees, and the city tree commission chose Callery pears to rim the square. There must have been forty of them and several years later they were 30 feet tall and gorgeous, both in spring bloom and in fall with golden color. Still are gorgeous for all I know. But if attacked, they all go out together, leaving the square bereft again.

I was interviewed extensively by the Pottsville Republican in the early 90’s about the history of the project and they printed everything I said, except the lessons we might have learned about mono-culture and how new pest and diseases can lay bare an entire area if planted with the same species.

In NYC you can request a
street tree to grace the
front of your home or
business, and in about a
year, the Dept. of Parks
and Recreation might
plant one. Or plant one
yourself after submitting
a free permit applica-
tion and getting appro-
val. If you need to dig
up the sidewalk that will
be another permit please.

1 comment:

Georgia (localecology.org) said...

Hopefully not Bradfords - especially weak branch connections.

Check out Les's at A Tidewater Gardener essay on the Callery pear: http://atidewatergardener.blogspot.com/2009/03/good-intentions-bad-tree.html.

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