A gust of wind sent a blizzard of white flakes past the picture window last weekend. The wall of white wasn’t snow, rather the fluttering petals from the blooming Callery pear tree in the front yard. Also known as a Bradford pear, it’s about as welcome today as a spring snowstorm.

The flowers are beautiful and Callery trees provide good shade in the summer, and it grows relatively quickly, which are all reasons it was planted in yards, parks and along roads throughout the eastern United States. Its blossoms can also emit a foul odor, and its fruit can stain whatever it happens to fall on, but neither is the reason why the Kansas Department of Agriculture (KDA) has taken the first step preventing the sale of the tree beginning in 2027. The hope is to eventually eliminate the tree from the state’s landscape.

At least its urban landscape. It turns out the qualities that made the Callery pear a good landscape tree also make it tough to keep it confined to where it’s planted. The white flowers it puts off in spring are a beacon to see just how far it’s spread. You can spot them easily along fence rows as you drive down the highway. They’ve become an invasive species that outcompete native species, especially in grasslands.

I’ve already spotted a couple of other plumes of white smoke on the horizon, and I know there will be many more on the calmer days ahead as ranchers burn their pastures ahead of grazing season. These fires speed the breakdown of dead plant material releasing essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Removing this blanket of vegetation also helps warm the soil, promoting new growth. And, perhaps most importantly, the periodic burning of grasslands controls the encroachment of invasive species like Callery pears or eastern red cedars.

Prairies have evolved to need fire, and without it the landscape would quickly be transformed into a scrub forest of low-value shrubs and trees. Initially sparked by lightning strikes, mankind soon discovered the value of fire. Native Americans were the first to use prescribed burns to attract bison.

Prescribed burns, like the ones ranchers use every spring, are an example of using a tool provided by Mother Nature to preserve a vital ecosystem quickly and efficiently. Burning also helps create more high-quality growth that allows grazing cattle to add weight faster, making it an environmentally friendly practice that also boosts the bottom line.

Black patches will soon dot the prairies, followed by a carpet of green grass reaching out through the ash and soot. There will be fewer Callery pears and other invasive species because of purposely set fires. Smoke billowing on the horizon is yet another sign of spring in Kansas. We can look forward to increasing warmth, new growth and, hopefully, ridding ourselves of the things that just don’t belong.