It's A Beautiful Tree But It Causes A Stink

It's A Beautiful Tree But It Causes A Stink

6:27pm May 02, 2015

The disease-resistant Callery pear became American cities' street tree of choice starting in the 1950s. One community in Pennsylvania, fed up with the stench, has banned it.

This story originally aired on All Things Considered on April 24, 2015.

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The warming weather means that across the country, Callery pear trees are being seen and smelled in their full glory. They started popping up as the street tree of choice in American cities beginning in the 1950s. WESA's Liz Reid reports on one Pennsylvania community that's had enough of the stench.

LIZ REID: It's springtime in Pittsburgh and throughout the city, Callery pear trees are sprouting beautiful white blossoms. And that's just the problem.

SHEILA TITUS: This whole place smells like dead fish. Everywhere you see one of these trees with the white on them, they smell like dead fish.

REID: Sheila Titus has lived in her home in the now hip neighborhood of Lawrenceville for 49 years. Two decades ago, her grandson and his seventh grade class planted a row of Callery pears across the street from her house.

S. TITUS: They told us they were putting nice trees up with flowers on them. Then they come up with this stinking stuff coming out of them, and - oh, God, it was terrible.

REID: Mike Dirr is a professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia and an expert on woody plants. He says at first, he advocated for the tree.

MIKE DIRR: We thought, gee, this is a panacea. You can stick it into any planting space in an urban situation - in concrete, heavy soils, clay soils, limestone-y soils, acid soils and it's going to grow.

REID: But Dirr says the Callery pear soon revealed its downsides. It stunk, and new trees started sprouting up everywhere, crowding-out native species.

DIRR: I'm not a crazy, invasive police kind of guy, but I can see the future and this tree is, I think, one of the biggest scourges we have.

REID: That's why the Callery pear is now prohibited by the Pittsburgh Urban Forest Master Plan, according to Matt Erb of the nonprofit Tree Pittsburgh.

MATT ERB: In the last five years, through the TreeVitalize Pittsburgh program, we've planted 23,000 trees throughout Allegheny County and not one of them has been a Callery pear.

REID: Still, there are thousands of the trees in Pittsburgh and many more across the country, from New York City to Colorado. Dirr says they'll probably never be eradicated. So each spring, Sheila Titus and her daughter Kim will just have to deal with the smell.

S. TITUS: We're lucky today. The odor's not as strong. It would be in the house.

KIM TITUS: You can't leave your car windows open.

S. TITUS: We thought it was our dog.

REID: Then, says Titus, the dog died, but the smell remained. For NPR News, I'm Liz Reid in Pittsburgh. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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