I stand corrected.
Shortly after my “Locust Hedge” column was published last week, I received a firm, but gentle email prodding: “Please go down to [the church] again. The trees along the building should be pear trees and not locusts as you mentioned in the article.”
It’s not the first time I have misidentified trees in public, nor do I expect it will be the last time. I especially hope that I would not have called these trees locusts in early spring when they are in full, white bloom. Or in summer, when they have shiny, somewhat pear-shaped leaves compared to the locust’s small, dull leaflets. Or in fall when the golden locust leaflets glow on an overcast day, and the pear trees are still green, long before changing over to a shining burgundy, often long after the season’s first snow.
And, when I misidentified the trees, it was not that I was holding in my hand a 4-year-old pear shoot whose smooth, bronze bark resembles the smooth, bronze bark of a young locust limb. No, I merely looked from across the street and made a snap judgment. I didn’t walk over and look closely at the checkered, course, graying bark of the pear and realize that it is not the same as the locust’s much smoother reddish bark filled with horizontal lenticels.
So I ran with my careless misidentification.
Had I correctly identified the trees, the prognosis would have been much worse, and the article more pungent. I had implied in the column that while a locust hedge is ugly and financially unsustainable. Had I been writing of a pear hedge, I would have had to add that a pear hedge is not only ugly and unsustainable, it is also unsafe. In contrast to a locust, which is rot-resistant, an improperly pruned pear does not resist decay and is structurally weakened by internodal cuts.
Thus, while you have likely never seen a locust tree splayed open by strong winds, pears regularly succumb to wind and snow. So a pear hedge, unless the biologically indiscriminate cuts are made only in the twigs, or unless it is pollarded, will have additional weakness in its crown.
Admittedly, failure of a 2-3” witch’s broom from the crown of a pear would unlikely cause more than a flesh wound on a hapless bystander below, but it would also peel bark with it, leaving a further unsightly wound vulnerable to additional decay.
The hard, decay-resistant wood of a locust hedge would merely stand against the wind and snow, and long remain as a testament to the ugliness and futility of substandard pruning practices.
So how will this flowering hedge look come spring? Since pears bloom on old wood, there will be fewer flowers this spring. But the inevitably resultant witch’s brooms will bloom with a vengeance thereafter.
Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit’s municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business. Reach him at email@example.com.