Last month, my blog post was an introduction to invasive plants and today I want to share information on three invasive, deciduous trees found in Maryland.
Springtime provides a breathtaking display of contrasting flowers in a wide array of colors, shapes, and sizes, which are found in herbaceous plants, as well as woody shrubs and trees. Unfortunately, some of these spring flowering trees are invasive and you need to be aware of their negative effects on ecosystems such as competition for resources including sunlight, soil nutrients, and space.
Q: What medium-sized invasive tree has white blooms in the early spring in Maryland?
Callery Pear (Pyrus calleryana), sometimes referred to as ‘Bradford’ Pear, has several cultivars including ‘Chanticleer,’ ‘ Cleveland Select’, and ‘Autumn Blaze’, all of which will be in bloom around this time of year. The Callery pear was imported from Asia to Maryland with the hope of being able to help edible Bartlett pears, which were being threatened by a disease called fire blight. The plan was to cross these pears to gain disease resistance in the pear industry. Unfortunately, this experiment was unsuccessful in preventing fire blight, but these crosses seemed to have potential for the ornamental industry and were planted widely. Bloom time often coincides with our native serviceberry, which produces white flowers too.
The ‘Bradford’ cultivar was thought to be sterile; however, when new cultivars of Callery pear were developed, it was able to cross-pollinate with those and produce viable seeds. Birds and other wildlife eat the fruits, which results in spreading them to different areas. The seeds sprout and grow into dense thorny thickets, which are very difficult to control and result in crowding out native vegetation. Callery pear provides a stunning show of beautiful white blossoms; unfortunately, these trees are highly invasive, which has led a few states to ban all cultivars of Callery pear (Pennsylvania, Ohio, and South Carolina). This tree has an attractive V-shaped crotch that unfortunately will often split from high wind and snow weight damage.
Q: What invasive tree has purple blooms in early spring?
Paulownia (Paulownia tomentosa), also called princess tree or empress tree, has purple, pleasant-scented blooms that appear before the foliage in early spring. I saw this tree for the first time when I traveled to Howard County for training in 2012, as this is not a tree we have in Garrett County. Its striking, large, heart-shaped leaves automatically caught my attention and reminded me of the Northern catalpa tree, a great native tree that should not be mistaken for Paulownia. According to Plant Invaders of the Mid-Atlantic Areas, one empress tree is capable of producing 20 million seeds that mature to flowering in only 10 years! These trees prefer full sun but can grow on disturbed soils, creek banks, and even forested areas which gives them a big advantage over native species that often require more special environments to grow and thrive. Paulownia’s ability to sprout from adventitious buds on stems and roots allows it to survive fire, cutting, and bulldozing. It is, therefore, a very difficult and costly invasive plant to control, according to the Maryland Invasive Species Council Plant Invader of the Month listing.
A great alternative to Paulownia is the native Eastern redbud, which produces early, purple/reddish-purple blooms.
Q: What invasive tree looks similar to black walnut?
Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) was introduced in the late 1700’s and thrives in many soil conditions. It has an amazing ability to grow very quickly and can disturb building foundations and even pavement! It was widely planted as a street tree and thus is found far and wide in the Eastern United States. This tree is called by other names including China-sumac, stinking sumac, or varnish tree due to its strong unpleasant odor. Tree-of-Heaven is sometimes mistaken for sumac, hickory, or black walnut because of similarities in leaf shape; however, look for the glands on the bottom of each leaflet to confirm its identity.
Just in case you needed one more reason to remove Tree-of-Heaven, it is a preferred food source for the new, exotic, invasive insect pest, spotted lanternfly.
For more specific information, history, and control options, visit these web pages:
- University of Maryland Extension – Invasives in Your Woodlot
- University of Maryland Extension Youtube Video – Invasive Tree of Heaven
- Tree of Heaven by Penn State
Keep an eye out this spring for non-native, invasive trees as there are many others that I did not address in this article. Take any opportunity to help educate friends or family about the negative impact of invasive plants on biodiversity.
Resources for invasive plant identification:
- Common Invasive Plants: Easy ID Cards (PDF)
- Plant Invaders of the Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas, Field Guide (PDF)
- Do Not Sell! Ornamental invasive plants to avoid with climate change – Northeast Regional Invasive Species & Climate Change Management Network (PDF)
Resources for non-invasive plant suggestions:
- Native Trees & Recommended Tree Species for Urban Plantings | UMD
- Landscaping with Native Plants| Maryland Native Plant Society
- Keystone Plants by Ecoregion|National Wildlife Federation
Check out the University of Maryland Extension website on Introduction to Invasive Plants for more information on how to reduce invasive plants.
Remember, the absolute best way to avoid invasive plants is to never plant or introduce them into your landscape!