In Praise of Redbud

Eastern redbud, Cercis Canadensis

I never fail to smile when the first magenta flowers of Eastern redbud appear in my area. Blooming with abandon at forest edges, along roadsides and in gardens, the showy tree produces a sharp color contrast that immediately distinguishes it from other trees in the landscape. One of my friends (a redbud-lover) always exclaims “Redbud!!” when her own specimen bursts into bloom. That seems to me the most fitting way to describe the flowering of this upbeat ornamental tree.

And cheery it is. Boldly inserting itself into the early spring landscape, redbud can hardly be ignored. Its purple-pink blossoms develop into oversized powder puffs, blooming thick and fluffy along the tree’s intricate bare branches. The effect is dazzling, although the flowers often appear where least expected. (One has only to witness the teeth-jarring combination of redbud’s magenta blooms alongside a red Japanese maple to see what I mean.) This carefree plant has a mind of its own.

 

About Eastern redbud

In the spring line-up of flowering trees, Eastern redbud (Cercis Canadensis) is one of the earliest, following close on the heels of cherries and just before American flowering dogwood (the latter with which it often overlaps.) The small tree is native to Eastern North America where it can found growing from Florida all the way to Ontario.

Redbud’s delicate pink flowers are considered one of the spring season’s most dramatic displays. Borne in tight clusters of four to ten, they bloom from April to May in the Maryland area. The blooms are edible and have a slightly nutty flavor.

The flowers are followed by flat, bean-shaped seedpods that mature to brown in the summer. When they are young and green, they are also edible and can be prepared like snow peas.

Photo credit: extension.iastate.edu

Not to be outdone, redbud’s leaves have their own attractions. Deep green and heart-shaped, they turn pale yellow in the fall.

Redbud leaves

Topping out at a height of 20-30’ with an equal spread, redbud is a perfect sized ornamental tree for the garden. Its short, twisted trunk, unique branch structure and wide, umbrella-like crown make it a stunning specimen even in winter. A notable quality is its dark, reddish-brown bark, which takes on deep scales and ridges as it ages.

Redbud bark

In the wild, eastern redbud is often found as a understory tree in mixed forests where it benefits from a little extra shade. When planted as an ornamental tree in the garden, part shade works best as well, especially in climates with hot summers. Plant redbud young and leave it alone. It doesn’t like to be moved.