What Destroyed My Pear Trees?

Ok, experts, here’s a botanical mystery for you.  I bought two pear trees at Lowes in mid-April – a Moonglow and a Bartlett.  I planted them right away and they were doing fine until a few weeks ago, when I noticed that the Moonglow seemed to be shedding branches.  Strangely, the branches seemed to be being ripped off near where they meet the base of the tree, and were just lying on the ground criss-crossed like pick-up sticks at the base of the tree.  The fallen branches didn’t look dead – in fact, they were still alive when I picked them up and broke them in half – green inside, and the leaves looked fine.

I assumed that I just got a crappy tree from Lowes, and didn’t sweat it too much, until the rest of the branches were dismembered this week.  In the picture below, you can see that as of today, the Moonglow pear tree has been dismantled completely – all of the branches are just sitting at the base of the tree, but the branches look healthy! (click to zoom)

thoroughly dismembered pear tree

Now, I’ve had problems with deer eating my juvenile trees – the apples – but the deer eat off the end of the branch – they don’t rip the branches off and leave them – so I don’t think this is deer.

In this orchard I also have 2 peach trees, a Chinese apricot tree, 3 apple trees planted this year, 2 apple trees planted last year, and 10-12 mature apple trees. None of the other trees show any damage like this.  Only one of the other trees is from Lowes – the rest are from nurseries and are what I would consider higher quality trees – they are also basically a year larger than these two that got eaten, which may explain why, if this was a 4-legged culprit, the other trees with higher branches were unharmed.

One thought was that perhaps it’s some kind of worm/bug, but that also seems unlikely, as the “incisions” are not clean, and the branches should be a bit large for something like a cutworm (which I would also expect to make a cleaner cut).  Also, the fallen branches don’t look like they died and fell off – they look alive.  I wasn’t especially concerned about my one dying Moonglow pear, until the same thing started happening to the Bartlett pear, which is next to it:

the culprit has moved on to the Bartlett pear tree

One thing I want to make sure of is that I don’t have some sort of bacteria or insect that is going to devour all of my trees in rapid succession.  Then I need to make sure that I don’t have an animal that is going to do the same thing.  Here’s a closeup of the Bartlett damage:

branches look like they were ripped off

You can see that the nubs are not clean cuts – they literally look like the branches were ripped off of the tree, although the branches are again sitting at the base of the tree.  Totally bizarre.

Additional info:  I have four 5 foot metal green posts around each tree, with fishing line strung around the posts at different levels – you can glimpse it in the background of the middle pic above – this was supposed to keep the deer at bay, although they seem to have adapted and are munching the ends of my apple tree branches still.  There is no fruit on these pear trees that an animal could be trying to get.  Also – just a random data point – we have had a ton of rain lately – like 12 of the last 14 days – heavy.

I posted a variation of this post on the Gardenweb forums, and some suggestions that came back included raccoon (which was subsequently vetoed by another commenter) and rabbit – which was seconded by another commenter.  Now, we definitely have raccoons in the area, and plenty of chipmunks and squirrels too (another suggestion), but I’ve never seen a rabbit in my 18 months here.  We have ample rabbit predators.

Anyway, what kind of animal rips the branches off of the tree for sport?  The branches are not being eaten, and are not being used to make a nest.

Any ideas?

-KD

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