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Eastern Redbud Cercis canadensis


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Eastern Redbud, flowers
credit: National Park Service

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Alternate name: Redbud, Judas Tree

Family: Fabaceae, Pea view all from this family

Description A large shrub or small tree native to eastern North America from Southern Ontario south to northern Florida. It is also known as the Judas tree.

It typically grows to 6–9 m (20–30 feet) tall with a 8–10 m (25–35 foot) spread. It generally has a short, often twisted trunk and spreading branches. A 10-year-old tree will generally be around 5 m (15 ft) tall. The bark is dark in color, smooth, later scaly with ridges somewhat apparent, sometimes with maroon patches. The twigs are slender and zigzag, nearly black in color, spotted with lighter lenticels. The winter buds are tiny, rounded and dark red to chestnut in color. The leaves are alternate, simple, heart shaped with an entire margin, 7–12 cm (3-5 inches) long and wide, thin and papery, and may be slightly hairy below.

The flowers are showy, light to dark magenta pink in color, 1.5 cm (O inch) long, appearing in clusters from March to May, on bare stems before the leaves, sometimes on the trunk itself. The flowers are pollinated by long-tongued bees such as blueberry bees and carpenter bees. Short-tongued bees apparently cannot reach the nectaries. The fruit are flattened, dry, brown, pea-like pods, 5–10 cm (2-4 inches) long that contain flat, elliptical, brown seeds 6 mm ( inch) long, maturing in August to October.

In some parts of southern Appalachia, green twigs from the Eastern redbud are used as seasoning for wild game such as venison and opossum. Because of this, in these mountain areas the Eastern redbud is sometimes known as the spicewood tree.

In the wild, Eastern redbud is a frequent native understory tree in mixed forests and hedgerows. It is also much planted as a landscape ornamental plant. The leaves are eaten by the caterpillars of some Lepidoptera, for example the Io moth (Automeris io).

The redbud is the state tree of Oklahoma.

Comments There are many varieties across the species' range. Be sure to use one adapted to the planting site. Redbud is a legume, meaning it can manufacture its own nitrogen fertiliizer when grown in the right soil. For this reason, acid soils should be limed rather than fertilized around a redbud. Native redbuds tend to be short-lived; their peak attractiveness lasts about 20 years, after which decline can be abrupt. One cause for decline is canker in moister sites. Leaf spots and verticillium wilt are other disease problems. The plant is quite sensitive to herbicides. Floral display is best in sunny, moist sites.

Exposure Preference Partial shade to shade.

Flower March - April (in south); April - May (in north)

Native Distribution Florida to Texas, n. to Pennsylvania, Ohio, s. Michigan, s. Iowa & s.e. Nebraska

Site Preference Woods; stream banks; limestone bluffs

Soil Preference Moist, fertile, well-drained soils. pH adapable.