So long, Bradford pears. SC moves to ban the stinky trees everyone loves to hate

An invasive tree that South Carolina has previously encouraged property owners to chop down will soon be banned.

Over the next three years, South Carolina will move to ban the sale of Bradford pear trees in the Palmetto State. The ban will fully go into effect on Oct. 1, 2024, after a grandfather period to bring nurseries into compliance, state regulators announced this week.

Regulators approved putting the Bradford pear and three other invasive species on the State Plant Pest List, South Carolina’s comprehensive list of forbidden flora.

The ban will go into place as nursery licenses are renewed. But only the sale of Bradfords will be made illegal, so property owners who have one of the foul-smelling trees on their land won’t face any legal trouble.

“In regulating a plant that’s actively traded in the nursery industry that is known to be invasive, you have to start somewhere,” said Steven Long, chairman of the S.C. Invasive Species Advisory Committee. “We believe that by listing these plants now and continuing to encourage citizens to remove what they have, we can, in time, eliminate them from the landscape and thereby eliminate their deleterious effects on the landscape and environment.”

The brittle, spindly pear trees were thought to be sterile when they were introduced to South Carolina, but pollen from other species can create viable seeds from Bradford flowers, and spread the invasive species across the Southeast.

The trees grow in tight thickets that can crowd out native plants, and produce thorns so fierce they can puncture a tire. But the trees are also fragile enough that high winds can leave streets littered with debris. The trees even smell bad, producing an odor that’s been compared to a dead fish.

In 2019, the S.C. Forestry Commission began asking people with Bradfords growing on their property to chop them down, with some calling them a “Frankenstein” plant that has had as destructive an effect on the region as the kudzu vine.

“It has all the characteristics of a noxious weed,” said David Coyle, assistant professor of forest health and invasive species at Clemson.

South Carolina would be the second state to ban the sale of Bradford pears, according to Clemson University. Ohio approved its own ban on the plant in 2018.

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