When Danielle Burr moved into the Lexington Farms neighborhood at the beginning of the year, she couldn’t wait for early spring to see the trees lining the street in full bloom. In fact, the subdivision’s mature trees were among the top reasons she bought her house.
So, she was dismayed in mid-February when crews hired by the City of Carmel showed up and began removing 55 Callery pear trees, including the ones that created an archlike effect at the subdivision’s entrance.
“This was a dream home for me, and part of the dream home idea was the street that had these trees that lined it and made a tunnel over the road,” Burr said. “It makes it feel like this well-aged, mature neighborhood, and (now) it’s so ugly. They’ve cut all the ones at the front down, and it hurts to see.”
While Burr and many of her neighbors are disappointed to see the trees go, Carmel officials said their removal is part of an effort to remove invasive species from city-owned property, which includes the treelawn between the sidewalk and street. The city is not removing trees from private property without the consent of the owner.
“City employees have been working for many years, as has the parks department, to remove non-native plants and species because of the problems they cause,” Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said. “In this case, these particular trees were tearing up the sidewalks, because the roots were shallow.”
Brainard said the trees can also be a safety hazard because they become top heavy as they age and are prone to splitting, with branches crashing onto whatever – or whomever – is below.
Will Drews, chair of the State of Indiana Cooperative Invasives Management, echoed the city’s concerns about Callery pears, a favorite tree to plant decades ago among new developments because of their spring and fall colors, lollipop shape and hardiness. The initial variety was sterile, producing flowers but not fruit, but new varieties led to cross-pollination and plants bearing fruit. Then, birds ate the seeds and spread them far and wide.
Drews said several factors contribute to the quick spread of Callery pears, which are native to east Asia, including a lack of “natural predators.”
“There are no insects that feed on the leaves or destroy the fruit to reduce the exponential population growth potential that it has,” he said. “So, it really has an advantage over other species of trees that are native and that we want to grow in Indiana.”
Drews also pointed out that they can grow thickets with thorns several inches long, creating a hazard for those passing by or trying to remove them.
The City of Carmel hasn’t planted any Callery pears since 2000, according to Darren Mindham, an environmental planner for the city, making it one of the first in the state to limit its use. Some states, including Ohio, South Carolina and Pennsylvania, have enacted legislation banning their sale or adding other limitations.
Drews said his organization recommends removal of all Callery pear trees, even if they seem structurally sound, to prevent additional spread. He recommends replacing Callery pears with serviceberries, flowering dogwoods or hawthorns, which are native to the area and have similar blooms.
Carmel is planting 45 new trees, including Princeton elm, shademaster honey locust and red oak, to replace many of the Callery pears in the neighborhood, but it will be many years until they reach maturity. That’s too late for residents like Teri Morning, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1997 but is considering selling her home soon. With multiple studies confirming that mature trees can significantly raise property values, she is concerned about what their removal might do.
“If you have a toddler, by the time they graduate college they might see a (sizeable) tree,” Morning said. “Those of us who live here, our home values are ruined, and our lifestyle is ruined, and our environment is ruined for the next 15 to 20 years.”
How does the city decide which trees to remove?
Lexington Farms isn’t the first Carmel neighborhood to have Callery pear trees removed.
Previously, the city conducted “large scale pear removal” projects in the WestPark, Kingsborough, Walden Pond and Lakes at Hazel Dell subdivisions.
The city doesn’t have an official document or schedule for removing invasive trees throughout the city, but its tree management plan provides a framework for tree care and maintenance, according to Mike Hollibaugh, the city’s director of community services. Specific maintenance actions, such as invasive species removal, are determined by the city’s urban forester.
Most of the city’s tree removal projects are on a smaller scale.
“Generally, the city responds to a resident or a neighborhood request for removal,” Hollibaugh said. “This most frequently occurs when a storm damages a tree or trees. From storm damage a larger forestry project can develop.”
Other invasive species frequently removed by the city in recent years include the princess tree and tree of heaven.
Hollibaugh said the city works with individual homeowners on a case-by-case basis when removing a small number of trees and coordinates with homeowners associations on bigger projects so communication can be “more structured.”
“These larger projects take months to develop, with communication occurring along the way,” he said.
Jeff Maurer, president of the Lexington Farms HOA, said the tree removal in the neighborhood is a City of Carmel project. He said the HOA worked with the urban forester as it progressed.
“Separately, the HOA continues to plant replacement and additional trees on HOA common area, including new tree plantings around the 106th Street pond and around our new playground, among other locations,” Maurer said.
Hollibaugh said the city initiated the large-scale tree removal and replanting project in Lexington Farms after addressing issues caused by Callery pear trees there in previous years.
“The tree planting and removal project in Lexington Farms has been on the city’s radar for a while, with outreach work starting in December of 2022,” he said.
See the city’s tree management plan at carmel.in.gov/home/