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The History of Fire Blight and Callery Pears

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Hello Gardeners, I’m Amanda McNulty with Clemson Extension and Making It Grow. Fire blight affects members of the rose family – that means apples, pears, and plums. It is caused by a native, not introduced, bacterium that overwinters cankers and becomes active when spring brings warm temperatures and rain. Bees actually spread it from flower to flower and It causes plants to die back from the terminals – often the branch tip looks like a shepherd’s crook. Although we think of Bradford pear trees as having been brought here as ornamentals, actually the first Callery pear species were brought to the US to help combat a horrible infestation in pear orchards in the western states. Thousands of seeds were collected in Japan, Korea and China and planted on government research sites in both Oregon and Maryland to identify resistant varieties. Those selected individuals were eventually used as rootstock for commercial grown pear trees. 

Amanda McNulty is a Clemson University Extension Horticulture agent and the host of South Carolina ETV’s Making It Grow! gardening program. She studied horticulture at Clemson University as a non-traditional student. “I’m so fortunate that my early attempts at getting a degree got side tracked as I’m a lot better at getting dirty in the garden than practicing diplomacy!” McNulty also studied at South Carolina State University and earned a graduate degree in teaching there.