Trees are a prized addition to any property, providing shade, beauty, fruit or nuts to nosh on, a spot under which to ponder humans’ place in the universe or perhaps whether to switch from Netflix to Hulu—and the list goes on. But be warned: Not all trees are good trees. Nature has also spawned some literal bad seeds that drop grass-killing nuts, grow roots that bust water pipes, or even smell like human waste. Have we gotten your attention yet?
In case you’d like to avoid these unappetizing scenarios and the extra maintenance they entail, here are the trees you’ll want to avoid planting in your yard or maybe even knock down if already there.
Princess tree (Paulownia tomentosa)
Sure, it has pretty pink flowers, but this “princess” is by no means well-behaved. Also called an empress tree, this aggressive royal tops the definitive invasive species list of Kim Coder, professor of tree biology at the University of Georgia in Athens. Originally from China and often seen growing wild in the U.S. along roadsides and stream edges, the princess tree can spread rapidly, propagating seedlings all over your yard that will have to be pulled out by hand. Unless you want a whole forest of princesses but nothing else, it’s best to steer clear of the species.
Silver maple (Acer saccharinum)
This tree may be native to the U.S., but it will quite possibly attack your lawn like a foreign invader. For one, its roots spread fast and shallow—and can easily bust underground pipes, especially if they’re old or rusty. Above ground, you’ll have to worry about the wind, which can break this tree’s brittle branches or even knock down its trunk. If you do decide to plant one (why?), place it downhill or far away from your house, which could be a target when it eventually topples.
We have no issue with the ash itself, because it is indeed a noble tree—tall and sturdy, its wood has produced generations of professional baseball bats. The problem is the poor ash is now a victim of the emerald ash borer, a ravenous beetle that is wiping this beloved tree off the map.
If you have an ash and love it, you can try to protect it with monthly sprays of herbicide, says Coder. But make no mistake, this is a high-maintenance tree, so if you want to grow it and forget it, it’s a poor fit.
Yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
For the first 50 years of the yellow poplar’s life, it grows tall and strong, providing a lovely canopy over your yard and smaller trees. But in old age, the yellow poplar starts falling apart, a frequent victim of high winds and ice storms—so like the silver maple, make sure it sits far from striking distance of your house. Meanwhile, the poplar tree’s roots can often push above ground, bending lawnmower blades. If this happens to you, consider turning that area into a flower bed to avoid the mowing trouble.
Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana)
The Bradford pear delights many passers-by with its spring blossoms. The problem? Those blossoms produce an odor that flies love and humans liken to the stench of rotting fish. We guess the bright side is that the blooms remain for only two weeks; still, if your nose is sensitive, it’s best to steer clear of it. Unless, of course, you enjoy the smell of rotting fish.
Black walnut (Juglans nigra)
Black walnut trees are treasured for their beautiful wood and meaty nuts, which have become a foodist favorite. But the trees release juglone, a chemical that is toxic for some plants and robs others of nutrients. This makes the tree a terrible neighbor for vegetable gardens with tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes.
What’s more, as much as you may love black walnuts, autumn’s deluge can make yard cleanup a nightmare. Make sure to rake up leaves quickly, since it kills turf if left unattended, and the nuts’ green husks can stain clothes—don’t wear anything you care about.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
The female ginkgo tree produces a stinky fruit that smells uncannily like dog poop—then, for good measure, said fruit drops to the ground and sticks to the bottom of your shoe. By the time you remember you don’t own a dog, you’ve tracked the ginkgo stench throughout your house.
Still, if you love this ancient tree from Asia, the trick is to buy a male ginkgo—easier said than done, because it’s hard to tell the sexes apart when the trees are young.