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Plants from the Ground Up

Cercis – The Rosy Redbud

Redbud trees in bloom are one of my favorite sights in spring! The unique way that purplish-pink flowers burst directly from the bare branches is so very interesting. These trees bloom so profusely and the branches become so completely covered in the pea-like flowers that they almost look as if they are wearing a pink sweater. After bloom pretty heart-shaped (cordate), alternately arranged leaves flutter all summer long, before turning butter-yellow in fall.

Cercis chinensis ‘Avondale’ DOUBLE-FLOWERED REDBUD

Cercis chinensis ‘Avondale’
DOUBLE-FLOWERED REDBUD

Cercis are members of the Fabaceae family and are leguminous. They have specialized root nodules that enable them to fix their own nitrogen. These deciduous tree/shrubs are used extensively in landscaping and are useful for bringing in bees and butterflies. They are also deer resistant and can be grown in the allelopathic soils around Black Walnuts. Cercis get their name from the Greek word κερκις (kerkis) which means ‘weavers shuttle’. This name refers to the shape of the curved seed pods. Redbuds are found all over the world and have long been used for food and medicine.

Cercis canadensis – Eastern Redbud

This beautiful 20 to 30 foot shrub/tree is native to woodlands and thickets from Canada to Texas, this lovely Redbud is the state tree of Oklahoma. Eastern Redbuds are hardy to zone 5, perform best in fertile soils with regular watering and prefer sun to part shade. Known in some regions as the ‘Spice tree’ due to the fact it has long been used as a seasoning for wild game. The Native Americans used this tree as a food source eating the flowers (raw or cooked) and also roasting the seeds. Many fantastic cultivars of this tree have been selected. ‘Merlot’ and ‘Forest Pansy’ have wonderful rich wine-colored leaves, ‘Hearts of Gold’ features bold yellow leaves and ‘Texas White’ was selected for its snowy white blooms.

Cercis canadensis ‘Merlot Shrub’ PURPLE-LEAF SHRUB

Cercis canadensis ‘Merlot Shrub’

Cercis canadensis ‘Hearts of Gold’

Cercis canadensis ‘Hearts of Gold’

Cercis canadensis texensis ‘Texas White’

Cercis canadensis texensis ‘Texas White’

Cercis chinensis – Chinese Redbud

This beautiful and showy Redbud boasts larger flowers and seedpods than other species. Cercis chinensis is native to the mixed woodlands and thickets of central China. This species is hardy to zone 6, prefers well-drained soils with adequate moisture, afternoon shade is best in climates with hot summers. This species can grow to an impressive 50 feet in its native habitat, but in the landscape it stays much smaller, usually to about 15 feet. ‘Avondale’ is a fabulous double-flowered cultivar and ‘Don Egolf’ is a seedless variety.

Cercis chinensis ‘Don Egolf’ SEEDLESS CHINESE REDBUD

Cercis chinensis ‘Don Egolf’

Cercis occidentalis – Western Redbud

A lovely large-shrub or small tree from the American Southwest, this species is found growing on dry slopes and canyons from California to Arizona. Not surprisingly, this tough Redbud can tolerate some drought. Hardy to zone 6, tolerant of most soil types and better adapted to hot summer climates than other Redbuds. Western Redbud was used by the Southwest Native Americans as a basket weaving plant. Cercis occidentalis ‘Alba’ is the white-flowering form.

Cercis occidentalis ‘alba’

Cercis occidentalis ‘alba’

Cercis siliquastrum – Judas Tree

This 15- 25 foot Cercis is native to Europe and SW Asia and is noted for its prolific flower displays, (even the tree’s trunk flowers!). After flowering, the tree is adorned with striking purple seed pods. The leaves and flowers are edible and said to have a pleasant acidic-bite. They are often added to salads and fritters. Hardy to zone 6, this species is easily grown in well-drained, fertile soils with regular watering. Judas Tree may have received its common name from a story that Judas Iscariot hanged himself from this tree after he betrayed Christ. The species siliquastrum is derived from the Latin word ‘siliqua’ meaning pod.

These wonderful shrub/trees are propagated by seed (hot water treated). Cultivars are either grafted or grown by tissue culture.

For more photos and information, see Cercis at the Forestfarm Store.

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