Bradford pear trees
They look like ghosts in the forest at this time of year. Or like brides.
Their white blossoms, which appear before those of dogwoods or apple trees, are in stark contrast to the evergreens and the grey/black trunks of the still naked trees around them.
They are Bradford pears trees, and they are everywhere.
Prized by suburban developers for their quick growth, their perfect shape, their spectacular (if stinky) blossoms in the spring and their wonderful range of leaf color in the fall, Bradford pears were a popular street tree choice after they were formally introduced in the 1960s.
But the tree proved a disappointment for two reasons. It has become invasive and it is fragile.
The fruit - more like hard little berries - that the tree produces is softened by frost in the fall and favored by birds, who have deposited the seeds everywhere you look, pushing out other native trees. You can see the evidence on your drive to work each morning.
Also, the angles of the branches off the trunk are so narrow - and the foliage so dense - that it is rare to see a Bradford pear that hasn't been split by a wind storm or shredded by an ice storm.
I confess to being one of those who purchased and planted a Bradford pear in the front yard of my new house 25 years ago, for exactly the reason developers liked them. They grew fast and their blossoms and foliage were beautiful.
But my husband and I returned from the movies one weekend afternoon - a storm had broken over Annapolis and we could hear it raging from inside the theater - to find our Bradford pear split down the middle as if someone had taken a mighty meat cleaver to it.
The half of the tree that remained upright eventually filled in. But it did not survive long. Another storm took it down.
It is rare, arborists say, to see a Bradford pear more than 25 years old. Ours did not make it that long.
Marc Montefusco, writing for the Frederick County master gardener program, suggests another cultivar, Cleveland Select, also known as Chanticleer or Stone Hill, which isn't as vulnerable to wind and ice.
Or choose another flowering tree, such as a crab apple, and feel free to go to the movies.
Photo credit: Susan Reimer