In our region, springtime means rapid change in the landscape, at times, hour by hour. Once our days, and nights, begin to warm, everything in the garden visibly responds.
The lawn grows shaggy and green, often brushed with the hues of magically appearing wild flowers. (Note I call them flowers. There are those who call them “weeds” and spray noxious chemicals to eradicate them.)
Besides the greening lawns and most welcome beds of daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths, the most stunning transformation in springtime is our trees.
At first a hazy blur in the canopies as their buds begin to swell, suddenly the trees pop into color one by one. Some soft green, others white or pink. And on one magical day, in early spring, the Redbud trees burst into color.
The native Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis, is one of the amazing trees the early European colonists discovered growing in the forests along the East Coast of North America, and sent home to gardeners back in England.
The native variety blooms in deep pink; almost magenta. When the buds begin to show, it is curious to find them not only on the tips of twigs, as one expects to find apple or cherry blossoms, but also growing directly out of the trunk and larger brancehs! The wood stems are just all of a sudden covered in these gorgeous pink buds.
Native in the North Eastern Unite d States, and north into Canada, Cercis Canadensis lives in Zones 4-8.
Since it prefers moist soils, it doesn’t grow well west of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, unless it is irrigated during dry spells.
Growing in sun to partial shade, this small tree is most often found as an understory plant along the edges of forested areas, and now in suburban yards. Redbud grows to around 30′ at maturity, with a spread of perhaps 25′.
The tree was considered a delicacy by the Native Americans. They ate the flowers either raw or boiled. Seeds, from the long pods which come along in summer, were roasted and enjoyed.
The tender green tips of new branches are still cooked with Venison and other wild meats today, in parts of Appalachia, as a seasoning. One of the common names for this tree is, the “Spicewood Tree.”
The Redbud tree has been hybridized in recent years to create many ornamental versions for the nursery trade. Although the native form has beautiful heart shaped leaves of medium green, newer hybirds offer various leaf colors from plum to orange.
Hybrids offer various colors of spring flowers from white varieties, through every shade of pink and several shades of purple.
An important early food source for bees, the Redbud also feeds squirrels and birds when its seeds ripen. Its leaves are an important food source for various caterpillars.
Redbud trees readily naturalize from their abundant seed production. Where there is one, there will often be many where the seedlings are allowed to grow undisturbed.
They have few pests or disease problems. Because they grow relatively slowly, and remain small, they are a welcome addition to the garden. They offer springtime color, summer shade, an easily managed growth habit, and benefits for wildlife.
Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014