Uses of a Redbud Tree

Native to eastern North America's woodlands, the redbud (Cercis canadensis) displays violet-pink flowers on its bare branches before the heart-shaped leaves emerge in spring. Grow this tree in moist, fertile soil that is acidic to neutral in pH. Select varieties for different flower colors or mature heights for landscapes across USDA hardiness zones 4 through 9.

Understory Tree

If you own a wooded lot, tall established trees already cast shade that makes growing sun-loving ornamental plants a challenge. To bring spring flower splendor to a woodland, sporadic planting of young redbud trees helps develop a secondary layer of foliage under the taller trees. Much like flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida), the horizontally tired branches of a redbud will flourish with the dappled, shifting sunlight. It add a vibrant flower display to contrast the dreary bark of nearby tall tree trunks, as well as provide a yellow fall foliage display.

Shade Tree

This species of redbud is the fastest growing, and since it grows to a mature size of 25 to 35 feet tall and wide, planting it in a spacious lawn in lots of sunlight will develop a nice shade tree. Prune suckering shoots from the trunk base and trim lowest branches to maintain a tidy, single-trunked tree. Providing pretty flowers in spring, the glossy heart-shaped leaves look attractive and cast an even shade to the ground below in summer. Place a 3-to-4-inch layer of organic mulch over the tree's root zone to prevent soil compaction, especially if you place a picnic table or play area under the branch canopy.

Ornamental Accent

Planting a single redbud tree in a mixed flower or shrub border is particularly effective for any of the smaller growing cultivated varieties, or cultivars, of redbud. Some selections bear white flowers rather than pink-violet. A weeping-branch cultivar is Covey, usually sold with the trademark name Lavender Twist. A mounded, dwarf selection that grows with a shrubby habit is named Traveller. Forest Pansy bears purple-tinted foliage; Silver Cloud and Floating Clouds produce creamy white and green leaves, while Hearts of Gold develops red-colored emerging leaves that become yellow and then mature to deep yellow-green by midsummer.

Non-Landscape Uses

The flower buds and blossoms of the redbud are edible. Rich in vitamin C, eat them fresh in salads to enjoy their slightly sour, nutty flavor---or incorporate them into breads or pancakes. Young twigs boiled in water produces a yellow dye for fabrics.

Keywords: Cercis, edible flowers, forest trees, understory trees

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for "The Public Garden," "Docent Educator," non-profit newsletters and for horticultural databases, becoming a full-time writer in 2008. He holds a Master of Science in public horticulture from the University of Delaware and studied horticulture and biology in Australia at Murdoch University and the University of Melbourne.