The scientific name for the eastern redbud is Cercis canadensis, while the European version is known as Cercis siliquastrum. It is a beautiful tree used extensively in landscapes and home gardens throughout the eastern United States. It is reasonably resilient to disease and insect problems. Though the flowers are edible and the seeds nurture some forms of wildlife, the main use of the tree is predominantly ornamental.
The redbud tree grows 12 to 18 inches each year, achieving a total height of 30 feet. It has a rounded canopy that spreads about 25 feet when mature. Its pinkish-purplish flowers are among the first to blossom in the spring. Some flowers even sprout directly from the trunk. Its leaves turn yellow in the fall. The leaves have a rounded, heart shape. The thin, brown bark is smooth and grows darker and furrowed with time until finally it looks like large plates cracked into thin scales.
The redbud grows in the eastern United States, spreading west to Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. It prefers shady locations, often growing as an understory tree in natural woodlands. The redbud also does well in partial shade in the home landscape. It is suited to a wide range of soil types, though it prefers a moist, well-drained footing.
Uses for Redbud
The flowers of the redbud can be added to salads. They can also be fried for eating. The flowers are favored by honey bees. The seeds of the redbud are known to be eaten by squirrels, deer and several types of birds, including cardinals and pheasants. The bark has been used to make astringent suitable for use in treating dysentery. The wood of the redbud is quite hard, but its limited size and somewhat gnarly growth patterns make unusable commercially for anything other than landscaping purposes.
Dieback/canker is the most harmful disease affecting redbuds. It is a fungus that attacks more than 50 types of trees. Initially, the leaves wilt and turn brown while cankers or sores begin to appear on the branches and trunk. It is spread by wind and rain and enters the tree through an existing wound, where it enters the vascular system and interrupts the tree's ability to deliver water and nutrients to its limbs. The branches begin to die. It cannot be cured, and affected limbs should be removed. Verticillium Wilt can also be fatal to redbuds. It is a fungus in the soil but can be spread through unsanitary pruning practices. Its symptoms and results are similar to dieback/canker and can take several years to destroy the tree. There is no cure and it should be treated in the same manner as dieback/canker.
The only state to have selected the eastern redbud as its state tree is Oklahoma. The tree earned this distinction in 1937. One faction believed the redbud should not be the state tree because it has the distinction of being known as the Judas tree. It is so named because it is believed to be the tree from which Judas hanged himself. However, the type of redbud that grows in the Mediterranean is the Cercis siliquastru, not the Cercis canadensis.