1239 Cercis chinensisCommon Names: Chinese redbud Family: Fabaceae (bean Family)
Chinese redbud is a densely branched and often multi-stemmed shrub or small tree that is usually around 20 ft (6 m) tall and nearly as wide. Wild specimens in their native Chinese woodlands reportedly attain heights of 50 ft (15 m), but specimens in cultivation rarely exceed 10 or 20 ft (3-6 m) in height. The leathery leaves are shiny dark green, 3-5 in (7-13 cm) long, and more or less heart shaped with pointy tips. They turn yellow to orange in autumn before dropping. Before the leaves open up in early spring, Chinese redbud bears abundant clusters of purple-pink flowers, each about a half inch (12 mm) across. The pods (this is a legume) are flattened with tapered tips and about 4-5 in (10-13 cm) long. Chinese redbud is a shorter, shrubbier plant than its American congener, eastern redbud (C. canadensis), and has larger more purplish flowers, shinier leaves, and longer seed pods.
The cultivar, ‘Avondale’ is smaller, to 10 ft (3 m) tall, but has larger flowers that are dark purplish red. ‘Alba’ has creamy white flowers. ‘Don Egolf’ produces exceptional masses of pinkish mauve flowers but does not produce pods.
Cercis chinensis is native to central China where it grows in open woodlands and thickets.
Light: As with most flowering shrubs, Chinese redbud performs best in full sun, and tolerates dappled shade. In the warmer climates, dappled shade is better. Moisture: Grow this one in ordinary garden soil, acidic or alkaline, well drained, but moist, and never water logged. Hardiness: USDA Zones 6 - 9. Chinese redbud seems to do very well in zones 7 and 8. Propagation: Chinese redbud can be propagated from soft wood cuttings taken in spring or summer, or from seed planted in spring. Seedlings may take several years before flowering, and should not be expected to resemble the parent.
A Chinese redbud in bloom is more floriferous and arguably prettier than the native American eastern redbud. The stems, devoid of leaves, are completely covered with flashy pinkish purple flowers. This early spring flowering beauty makes an excellent lawn specimen alone on in a small grouping. They are also great in mixed shrub borders and in front of a woodland garden. Chinese redbuds are often used as street plantings. Fall color is not as good as the native American redbud.
The legume or pea family, Fabaceae (also called Leguminosae; see article What's in a (Plant) Name?), is the third largest family of flowering plants, behind the orchid family, Orchidaceae, and the composite family, Asteraceae. The pea family includes more than 16,000 species in some 657 genera. Among these are annuals, perennials, vines, shrubs, trees, aquatic plants and even succulents. Legumes are found on every continent except Antarctica. They are all included in the same family because it is believed that they have all evolved from a common ancestor from which no other plants have evolved. Botanists recognize three subfamilies in the Fabaceae: the Papilionoideae (includes garden peas and redbud), the Caesalpinioideae (includes peacock flower), and the Mimosoideae (includes silk tree). All members of the family produce pods (also called legumes) of some sort, and many have a mutualistic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria that allows them to use atmospheric nitrogen which is not available to plants without the bacteria. Plants that lack nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their root nodules can only use nitrogen that has been bound into other molecules (such as nitrates) typically found in animal waste products.
The flowers of the pea subfamily, Papilionoideae, are shaped more or less like a butterfly, and called by the botanists “papilionaceous” which means “butterfly-like.” These flowers are referred to as irregular or bilaterally symmetrical as opposed to radially symmetrical. They have five petals including a “banner” or “standard” on top, two “wings” on the sides and a “keel” on the bottom. The largest segment is the banner consisting of one petal with two lobes. It is on top if you view the flower straight on. The keel is composed of two petals fused together opposite the banner, on the bottom. The stamens and pistil are enclosed within the keel. The petals on each side of the flower are the wings.
The flowers of the other two subfamilies, the mimosa subfamily (Mimosoideae) and the Caesalpinia subfamily (Caesalpinioideae), look a little different than those of the pea subfamily (Papilionoideae). However, members of these two subfamilies can be recognized as belonging to the Fabaceae by their pea-like pods (legumes) and pinnately compound leaves.
Steve Christman 4/22/15