The pink-hued blooms of native eastern redbud trees (Cercis canadensis) are one of the first signs of color that I see in March. It’s a sure sign that spring is on its way and that more color will begin to pop up in the lawns and gardens in our neighborhood.
After months of cold weather and the barren landscapes of winter, the hint of mauve and pink that begins to unfold along the branches and trunk of a redbud tree in late March is a welcome sight.
Wildlife Use of the Eastern Redbud Tree
The tiny flowers of the redbud are an early source of nectar and pollen in spring, showing up long before many other plants are blooming. We have often seen dozens of honeybees, bumble bees, and other native bees buzzing around the flowers in a feeding frenzy. You can walk to within inches of the bees and they won’t pay you any mind as they hungrily feed on the flowers.
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has deemed this tree of special value to native bees because it attracts large numbers of native bees as well as provides nesting materials or nesting structure for native bees.
In the fall, the pea pod-shaped seedpods are a welcome food to birds and mammals alike. You might find cardinals, chickadees, rose-breasted grosbeaks, or squirrels feeding on the seeds. In our forests, the seeds are food for white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and bobwhite quail.
People have used the flowers in foods such as salads, breads, and pancakes (source: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center). It was also used for medicinal purposes historically (source: Arbor Day Foundation).
How to Care for a Redbud Tree
Redbuds are commonly found out in open fields or as an understory tree in forest openings or along the edges of forests. They tolerate a wide variety of soils from clay to sand, but they prefer moist, well-drained soil.
Plant your tree in either part-shade or full sun. If you’re in a hot and dry climate, part shade is preferable to full sun.
If planted in full sun, regular water will help the tree do well. You might consider adding some mulch around the tree to keep the roots cooler. In part-shade, the tree tolerates dry periods well.
Hardiness Zone: The eastern redbud is hardy in zones 4 to 9.
Growth rate: The growth rate of the eastern redbud is medium, growing about 10-20” each year.
Height and spread: the eastern redbud is a small tree, reaching average heights of about 20 to 30 feet with a spread of 25 to 35 feet.
Leaves: The leaves of the eastern redbud are heart-shaped and paper-like in texture. They start out with a bit of maroon color, turning green when fully grown, and pale yellow in the fall.
Lifespan: The eastern redbud has a shorter lifespan, lasting for an average of 20-25 years.
The Story of the Redbud, the Judas Tree
Did you know this tree has a story associated with it?
As stated in Matthew 27:5, Judas Iscariot purportedly hung himself after Jesus was condemned. The story related to the redbud tree is that he hung himself on a Cercis silquastrum, a Mediterranean redbud tree. The previously white flowers turned the bright pink/magenta of the current flowers from the blood or from the shame.
Although the eastern redbud is not the same species of tree, the story has become associated with it as well.
However, upon inquiries with biblical scholar Paul Jacobs, there is no biblical reference to a specific tree or this story. The origin is unknown.