Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Three Fast Growing Trees with Problems

Think twice before planting these trees!

As America gears up for the spring planting season, stores and nurseries across the nation will stock millions of trees. Some of them will be labeled, "Fast growing," and those are words that bring joy to the hearts of tree-planters. Be careful! Here are three fast-growing trees that you may regret planting.

1. Bradford Pear/Pyrus calleryana 'Bradford'

Bradford pear -- prone to problems
Bradford Pear image by Britt Slattery,
US Fish and Wildlife Service.
This tree is beautiful in three seasons --  spring, summer, and fall. It has abundant white blossoms early in spring, and its shiny green foliage turns red in autumn.

In winter, the Bradford Pear is not so attractive because its broken parts are no longer hidden by its leaves. And this tree does typically have a lot of broken parts. The dense branching, narrow branch crotches and weak wood cause it to break in wind, snow, ice -- and even heavy rain!

I have personally seen dozens of Bradford Pears severely damaged by weather events. Often the whole tree splits apart and an entire quarter or half of the tree tears away and falls to the ground.

If the tree lasts more than ten years without a disfiguring loss of branches or a partially dead crown, count yourself lucky. Bradford pears are very short-lived (30 years, max.)

2. Mimosa Tree/Albizia julibrissin

Mimosa or silk tree blossoms and leaves
Wikimedia image by Simon Garbutt (SiGarb)
Mimosa trees (also called silk trees) have fragrant pink blossoms in summer, and their lacy foliage and multi-stemmed growth has a tropical look. It is a very fast-growing tree (3 feet or more per year.)

Mimosas grow all over the southeastern United States, where they have naturalized after being introduced as an ornamental in 1745. They are an invasive species; that is, they reproduce so freely and rapidly in the wild that they displace native species. That alone is good reason not to plant them. Mimosa seedlings and suckers will invade any part of your yard that's not regularly mowed and any flower bed that's not frequently weeded. They will also invade your neighbor's yard and flower beds!

 Besides being extremely invasive, the mimosa is a problem tree because of its weak, brittle wood which often breaks in storms.  It is vulnerable to a number of insects, and it is very short lived (15 to 20 years.)

3. Lombardy Poplar (Populus nigra)

Lombardy poplars grow very fast indeed, and their narrow columnar shape makes them desirable for tight spaces. However, they are weak-wooded and very short-lived due to their susceptibility to disease. They send up suckers from their roots in a hundred-foot circle or more. Their rooting system includes extensive surface roots which can make mowing difficult.

Even the "hybrid poplars" that are touted to have a longer lifespan will die young. We planted ten hybrid poplars about 15 years ago, and three have already died. In retrospect, we regret planting them, even though they served their purpose effectively for a few years as a screen from the road.

An interesting history of the Lombardy poplar (pdf) 

Lombardy poplars, fast-growing and short-lived.
Flikr image by wallygrom

2 comments -- please add yours:

Pedro n. t. santos said...

I have recently discovered you blog and i find it very interesting.

I'm from Portugal and we have several problems with invasive plants as in the US. Our major problems are with australian acacias,which are very related with Albizia julibrissin (which is also present in our country but for the moment is under control). We also have the same problem you have with Ailanthus altissima.

Genevieve said...

Thank for your note, Pedro. I took a look at your blog and enjoyed the many photos of trees. Yes, invasive plants, insects, and animals are a big problem everywhere. It's one of the prices we all pay for international travel and trade.

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927)

Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

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