27 Cercis canadensisCommon Names: eastern redbud, Judas tree, redbud Family: Fabaceae (bean Family)
Eastern redbud is a small to medium sized tree, occasionally reaching 40 ft (12 m) in height, but usually staying around 20 ft (6 m) tall. It sometimes has multiple trunks and its branches form a spreading, flattened or rounded crown up to 30 ft (9 m) across, but usually less. The leaves are simple and heart shaped, appearing after the magenta flowers bloom in early spring. Those flowers are borne in clusters all along the naked branches and make the whole tree look pinkish-purple. Redbud is a member of the bean and pea family, and you would certainly know that from the fruits. They are typical-looking pods, rather flattened, about 2-4 in (5-10 cm) long and a half inch wide, and they hang in little clusters right off the branches. The pods may be hard to see amongst the attractive pale green foliage of summer, but they often persist into winter after the leaves have fallen.
Several selections have been named and these are generally preferred over the wild form. 'Alba' has white flowers. 'Covey' has a weeping habit and an umbrella-shaped crown. 'Forest Pansy' has reddish-purple leaves. 'Silver Cloud' has white variegated foliage and does well in shade.
Eastern redbud, Cercis canadensis, is found in fertile, moist sites along streams and in moist woodlands from southern Ontario, west to Nebraska, and south to Texas and North Florida. It is part of the subcanopy in mixed hardwood forests.
CultureEastern redbud does well in most soils, acidic to alkaline, so long as they do not stay soggy. This is a fast-growing little tree that requires little care. Light: Eastern redbud does well in full sun to light shade. Plant redbuds in the shade of larger deciduous trees; they seem to do best when they get plenty of sun in the late winter as they are getting ready to bloom, but then they appreciate a little shade during the heat of summer. Moisture: Redbud likes a moist soil but established specimens are quite drought tolerant. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 9. Plants from northern parts of the range are more cold hardy than those from farther south. Propagation: Start redbud from seeds in autumn and overwinter outdoors. Named cultivars are usually grafted onto seedlings or started from semi-ripe tip cuttings in spring or summer.
Eastern redbud is often used as a street tree planted 25-35 ft (7.6-10.7 m) apart. They also make good framing trees for small homes. Redbud is great for providing shade for patios and for a spring accent tree. The flowers are one of the first signs of spring, opening about the time of the dogwoods and azaleas.
Magenta blossoms borne close to the twigs are a harbinger of spring. This tree is commonly used as an ornamental along with flowering dogwoods. According to legend, an Old World relative of redbud was used by Judas Iscariot to hang himself. As a member of the pea or legume family, redbud has the ability to fix nitrogen from the air to use as a nutrient. See Floridata's garden pea (Pisum sativum) profile for a description of how that works.
Jack Scheper 2/1/96, updated sc 10/05/00, 3/3/01, 6/7/03, 12/5/03, 10/23/04, 6/4/11, 4/10/12