Throughout woodlands and city landscapes, rosy pink splashes of color signal that spring is on its way. Redbuds are wonderful, small trees that can have a place in almost any landscape. Small in stature, they fit nicely into smaller urban lots. But, redbuds work their magic just as well on larger acreage since their cheerful, bright color is easily noticed in early springtime when grays and browns dominate the landscape.
Lavender-pink to rosy or reddish purple blooms come out in March and last 2 to 3 weeks. Blooms are followed by long, flat seedpods, showing that they are in the pea family. The leaves, which wait to appear until the floral show is over, are heart shaped, and often turn yellow in the fall. The bark on older trunks is a dark reddish black, and has ornamental value when trees are placed against lighter backgrounds where the trunk color can be seen.
Eastern Redbuds typically grow 25 to 35 feet tall, often with a spreading habit.
Our native Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis is native from Canada and Maine all the way to the Gulf Coast, west to Oklahoma, Texas and Mexico. Its wide native range means that there is a lot of variability within the species, and several forms and cultivars have been selected, named and propagated.
Redbuds are often found at the edge of forest clearings where sunlight can reach and promote good growth. Redbuds bloom and look the best in full sun to light shade. While they tolerate occasional moisture stress (too much or too little), they will do best in well-drained soils with regular rainfall or watering.
Nurseries may carry one or more named varieties which have selected for superior characteristics. Here are a few that are in commerce.
‘Forest Pansy’ – this is a very attractive variety with dramatic, strongly colored dark purple leaves in spring, giving way to a more muted dark green with purple tones in heat of the summer. The flowers are a darker, rosy purple, and open later than most seedling redbuds, adding to its usefulness in the landscape. One can be found in a shaded corner of the IDEA Garden. ‘Burgundy Hearts’ is a newer purple-leaved variety that reportedly maintains its color longer into the summer. A newer variety, ‘Burgundy Hearts’ is reported to hold its deep purple color longer than ‘Forest Pansy’
‘Hearts of Gold’ is another new variety with golden hued new growth which fades to green. I’ve only seen it in trade shows, and it is an eye-catcher. Another new variety with similar traits is ‘Rising Sun’ with orangey new growth that fades to green.
Texensis is a subspecies of Cercis canadensis, which as the name implies, is found in the western range of the species in Texas, Oklahoma and Mexico. Varieties tend to be shorter, with thicker, more lustrous, almost leathery leaves, making it more hardy for arid locations. Some of the named varieties include: ‘Oklahoma’ – selected for its intense magenta flowers, and ‘Texas White’ for its pure white flowers.
A really unusual variety is ‘Traveller’, which grows much wider than tall, since its branches are strongly weeping and pendulous. It may get only 5 feet tall unless staked to train a taller trunk. There is a young specimen in the Heritage Rose Garden.
A new weeping variety recently introduced to the trade is ‘Lavender Falls’ which is a cross between ‘Forest Pansy’, giving it its purple foliage, and ‘Covey’ or ‘Lavender Twist’, another weeping variety, resulting in a weeping purple-leaved redbud.
‘Avondale’ is not a native redbud but is native to China and known appropriately as Chinese Redbud (Cercis chinensis). ‘Avondale’ was selected by a nursery in New Zealand for its outstanding blooming characteristics. ‘Avondale’, like all Chinese redbuds, does not get as tall our native redbuds, growing only to about 10 to 15 feet tall. But it more than makes up for its short stature with its outstanding blooming display.
If you want a traffic-stopper in early spring, this plant will do it. It is covered or clothed from head to foot with deep purple-red flowers. It is difficult to see the stems and branches due to the density of the blooms. ‘Avondale’ tends to be upright, so it will fit well into smaller spaces. The abundant blooms give way to abundant seed pods, giving a somewhat messy appearance, but this large shrub or small tree is also well-clothed with leaves that neatly hide most of the fruit. There is an outstanding specimen located in the IDEA Garden.
The National Arboretum in Washington D.C. recently released another Chinese Redbud selection named ‘Don Egolf’. This selection reportedly grows only about 9 to 10 feet tall and has a vase-shaped, multi-trunk habit, being a bit more compact than the species. It was selected for its outstanding floral display and the fact that it does not set seed, so it does not look as shabby with a lot of brown seed pods. Like some of the other new varieties mentioned, it was released to the trade only recently, so it may not be commonly available for a while.
Whether native or imported, redbuds are wonderful plants for East Texas gardens.