James G. Dickson
Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) is a small, short-lived deciduous tree found throughout the eastern United States. Redbud is also known as Judas-tree. According to legend, Judas Iscariot hanged himself from a branch of the European species Cercis siliquastrum (13). Eastern redbud is a strikingly conspicuous tree in the spring because it flowers before other tree leaves form. The wood is heavy, hard, and close-grained, but because of the small size and irregular shape of the tree it is of no commercial value as a source of lumber. This tree is most valued as an ornamental and is extensively planted.
General: Legume Family (Fabaceae). Eastern redbud is a native, perennial, deciduous tree or shrub. The plants may vary in form from dense and round (to 6 m tall) when grown in sun, to an open, taller form (to 12 m tall) when grown in the shade. The trees produce hundreds of small pink pea flowers in the very early spring, even before other trees have leafed out. The bright magenta-pink to lilac flowers, appear in small clusters, primarily on older stems. The flowers are irregular, 9 to 12 cm long, with ten stamens. The unique, broadly heart-shaped leaves are nearly circular (5 to 10 cm), with a long, slender petiole. The leaves are alternate and have 5 to 9 prominent veins that radiate palmately from the base. New leaves are a light green that darken with age and finally turn yellow in the fall. The seeds are contained in a flat, thin pod (4 to 10 cm long), which turns from green to brown.
Distribution: Eastern redbud is native to the eastern and south-central United States, southward to Texas. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.
Habitat: Eastern redbud occurs in the forest understory in moist rich woods, along the banks of streams, in ravines, on bluffs, in open rocky woods, and abandoned farmlands.
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Regularity: Regularly occurring
The range of eastern redbud extends from New Jersey and Pennsylvania
west to southern Michigan and southeastern Nebraska; south to eastern
Texas; and east to central Florida . Its natural range appears to
exclude the Gulf and Atlantic Coastal Plains . It is extinct from
one locality in extreme southern Ontario .
Texas redbud occurs from southern Oklahoma south to eastern, southern,
and Trans-Pecos Texas; extreme southeastern New Mexico; and northern
Mexico. In Mexico, its range extends from eastern Chihuahua and Coahila
east to Tamps and south to San Luis Potosi and Hidalgo .
Regional Distribution in the Western United States
This species can be found in the following regions of the western United States (according to the Bureau of Land Management classification of Physiographic Regions of the western United States):
13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont
14 Great Plains
Occurrence in North America
MI MS MO NE NC NJ OH OK PA SC
TN TX VA WV MEXICO
-The native rane of eastern redbub.
Eastern redbud is a native, deciduous, small tree or shrub. Mature
height ranges from 25 to 50 feet (7.6-15.2 m); the smaller figure is
probably closer to average [15,16]. The crown is flat to rounded .
The trunk us usually straight, branching about 5 to 9 feet (1.5-2 m)
above the ground . The 0.5-inch- (1.2-cm) thick bark becomes scaly
on older stems [11,16]. The root system of eastern redbud is long and
coarse with a relatively small number of fine feeder roots near the
surface . The fruit is a flat, thin-walled legume (pod) 1.5 to 3.9
inches (4-10 cm) long and 0.32 to 0.72 inches (8-18 mm) broad, with
several hard, shiny seeds .
The national champion (1976) eastern redbud from Springfield, Missouri,
measured 47 feet tall (14.3 m), 8.17 inches (20.75 cm) in circumference,
and had a crown spread 36 feet (10.9 m) in diameter .
Unlike most other members of the Fabaceae, eastern redbud does not form
root nodules and does not appear to fix nitrogen .
Habitat and Ecology
Range and Habitat in Illinois
excessively dry, or strongly acidic [11,14,18]. Within its natural
range, eastern redbud exhibits a strong preference for, and can be used
as an indicator of, alkaline soils. Eastern redbud occurs in eastern
redcedar communities on calcareous soils . In Virginia, eastern
redbud tends to occur on alkaline soils high in calcium and magnesium
. Collier and Longenecker  recommend a soil pH range of 6.0 to
8.0. Best growth of eastern redbud occurs on rich, moist soils, usually
in partial shade . It is usually not considered drought tolerant
; however, its ability to tolerate dry conditions is decreased in
full full sun . Probst  reported that eastern redbud is less
common in oak forests on poor sites than in oak forests on good sites
(defined by oak site indices). The upper elevational limit of eastern
redbud is about 2,200 feet (670 m) in the southeastern portion of its
range . In Trans-Pecos Texas, eastern redbud ranges from 2,300 to
5,000 feet (701-1524 m) in elevation .
In Trans-Pecos Texas, Mexican redbud occurs in brushy arroyos, canyons,
and limestone hillsides . In the Konza Prairie of Kansas, eastern
redbud occurs on rocky breaks in the grassland .
Key Plant Community Associations
Eastern redbud occurs in the open or as an understory tree common along
the edge of woods in a variety of habitats [11,53]. In Kentucky, it
occurs on exposed limestone cliffs in eastern redcedar (Juniperus
virginiana) communities .
It very commonly occurs with flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) .
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
K082 Mosaic of K074 and K100
K084 Cross Timbers
K089 Black Belt
K099 Maple - basswood forest
K100 Oak - hickory forest
K101 Elm - ash forest
K102 Beech - maple forest
K103 Mixed mesophytic forest
K104 Appalachian oak forest
K106 Northern hardwoods
K110 Northeastern oak - pine forest
K111 Oak - hickory - pine forest
K112 Southern mixed forest
This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):
FRES13 Loblolly - shortleaf pine
FRES14 Oak - pine
FRES15 Oak - hickory
FRES16 Oak - gum - cypress
FRES17 Elm - ash - cottonwood
FRES18 Maple - beech - birch
FRES19 Aspen - birch
FRES32 Texas savanna
FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe
FRES38 Plains grasslands
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
25 Sugar maple - beech - yellow birch
26 Sugar maple - basswood
27 Sugar maple
40 Post oak - blackjack oak
42 Bur oak
44 Chestnut oak
46 Eastern redcedar
52 White oak - black oak - northern red oak
53 White oak
55 Northern red oak
59 Yellow-poplar - white oak - northern red oak
60 Beech - sugar maple
64 Sassafras - persimmon
65 Pin oak - sweetgum
78 Virginia pine - oak
79 Virginia pine
80 Loblolly pine - shortleaf pine
81 Loblolly pine
87 Sweetgum - yellow-poplar
89 Live oak
110 Black oak
Soils and Topography
The tree grows well in a variety of soil textures but is not found in coarse sands (11). It requires some fine or colloidal material. Redbud is tolerant of a wide pH range but grows best where the pH is above 7.5. It is prevalent on limestone outcrops and on alkaline soils derived from them (11,12). Redbud is tolerant of nutrient deficiencies. Therefore, less competition can occur from associated trees that are less vigorous on the nutrient deficient sites. In Indiana no relationship was noted between distribution of redbud and soil calcium or magnesium. Redbud is found on soils of most soil orders, but most commonly on those of the orders Alfisols and Mollisols.
Eastern redbud is widely cultivated as an ornamental because of the plants showy springtime flowers and beautiful heart-shaped leaves. The plants are graceful with arching branches that look lovely as a specimen tree, in groupings, and in shrub borders. The plants do well in soils of moderate to low fertility and are very drought resistant. The seeds have very hard seed coats that require both chilling and scarification for germination, unless planted in the fall. Cuttings are difficult to root. Mature plants do not transplant well so buy young plants that are balled-and-burlapped or container grown. Transplant the plants in the spring or fall, in well-drained soils in sun to part shade. Water the plants regularly until established.
Flower-Visiting Insects of Redbud in Illinois
(Bees suck nectar or collect pollen, while other insects suck nectar; butterflies, skippers, & beetles are non-pollinating; most observations are from Robertson, otherwise they are from Krombein et al. as indicated below)
Apidae (Apinae): Apis mellifera sn cp fq; Apidae (Bombini): Bombus auricomus sn fq, Bombus griseocallis sn cp, Bombus impatiens sn, Bombus pensylvanica sn, Bombus vagans sn; Anthophoridae (Anthophorini): Anthophora ursina sn fq, Habropoda laboriosus sn; Anthophoridae (Ceratinini): Ceratina calcarata sn; Anthophoridae (Eucerini): Synhalonia belfragii sn, Synhalonia speciosa sn cp fq icp; Anthophoridae (Nomadini): Nomada affabilis sn, Nomada cuneatus sn, Nomada denticulata sn, Nomada luteola sn, Nomada sayi sn, Nomada sulphurata sn; Megachilidae (Osmiini): Osmia atriventris sn cp, Osmia bucephala bucephala sn cp, Osmia conjuncta sn cp, Osmia lignaria lignaria sn cp fq, Osmia pumila sn cp fq
Halictidae (Halictinae): Agapostemon sericea sn, Augochlora purus purus sn, Augochlorella striata sn, Augochloropsis metallica metallica sn, Halictus confusus sn cp fq, Halictus rubicunda sn cp fq, Lasioglossum cinctipes sn, Lasioglossum coriaceus sn, Lasioglossum forbesii sn, Lasioglossum imitatus sn cp fq, Lasioglossum pilosus pilosus sn, Lasioglossum versatus sn cp fq, Lasioglossum zephyrus sn; Colletidae (Colletinae): Colletes inaequalis sn cp fq (Rb, Kr); Andrenidae (Andreninae): Andrena carlini sn cp (Rb, Kr), Andrena cressonii sn, Andrena forbesii (Kr), Andrena heraclei (Kr), Andrena hippotes (Kr), Andrena imitatrix imitatrix sn cp, Andrena mandibularis sn cp, Andrena sayi sn cp
Vespidae: Polistes fuscata sn
Empididae: Empis otiosa sn fq, Empis pudica sn, Rhamphomyia priapulus sn; Bombyliidae: Bombylius major sn
Nymphalidae: Vanessa atalanta sn np, Vanessa virginiensis sn np; Lycaenidae: Everes comyntas sn np
Hesperiidae: Erynnis icelus sn np, Erynnis juvenalis sn np
Cerambycidae: Molorchus bimaculatus sn np
Foodplant / feeds on
pycnidium of Diplodia coelomycetous anamorph of Diplodia siliquastri feeds on Cercis canadensis
Associated Forest Cover
Diseases and Parasites
Numerous wood borers have been found in redbud. Agrilus otiosus, three species of Hypothenemus, three species of Micracis, two species of Microcisella, Pityophthorus lautus, Ptosima gibbicollis, and Thysanoes fimbricornis all inhabit portions of the wood of redbud.
Other insects feed on the leaves of redbud. The redbud leaffolder, Fascista cercerisella, feeds on leaves which the larvae web together. The grape leaffolder, Desmia funeralis, an important pest of grape, also feeds on redbud. The Japanese weevil, Callirhopalus bifasciatus, and Norape ovina both consume redbud leaves.
Other insects feed on redbud by extracting juices from the plant. The twolined spittlebug, Prosapia bicincta, has been recorded feeding on redbud. The terrapin scale, Mesolecanium nigrofasciatum, and San Jose scale, Quadraspidiotus perniciosus, like most of the other redbud parasites, inhabit a variety of hosts including redbud. The periodical cicada, Magicicada septendecim, lays its eggs in more than 70 species of trees and other plants, including redbud.
There are three main diseases of redbud: leaf anthracnose, Mycosphaerella cercidicola, Botryosphaeria canker, and Verticillium wilt (6). The most serious is the canker Botryosphaeria ribis or its variety chromogena. The species is mainly a saprobe; the variety is a parasite. This variety produces stem and twig lesions and entire groves of redbuds have been killed by this disease. Verticillium wilt (Verticillium albo-atrum) sometimes kills redbuds, especially in the Midwestern United States. Redbud is vulnerable to Texas root rot (Phymatotrichum omnivorum), but redbud is not commonly grown in its range. A variety of sap and heart rots also infect eastern redbud.
Fire Management Considerations
In Texas, chaining and burning live oak (Quercus virginiana), white oak
(Q. alba), Texas oak (Q. texana), and Ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei)
resulted in an increase in fire climax species, including Texas redbud.
Fires maintain root sprouters like Texas redbud in a low growing
condition. Prescribed fire is recommended for these areas to cover
approximately 10 to 15 percent of the total area each year (resulting in
a 5- to 10-year rotation) .
Plant Response to Fire
In North Carolina, a 1931 wildfire burned with varying intensity in a
35-year-old oldfield loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) stand. Flowering
dogwood and estern redbud were the most abundant woody species in the
understory and in the shrub/seedling strata of the unburned area 9 years
after the fire. Eastern redbud was recorded for the area that
experienced crown fires but was present at a lower density and frequency
than in the unburned stand. No eastern redbud was recorded for the area
that had experienced surface fire. No specific data on composition of
the plots prior to the fire was reported .
In Alabama, the relative dominance of eastern redbud decreased on plots
that were burned in spring and in fall, as measured from 1 to 3 years
after clearcutting and prescribed fire. By 3 years after a
low-intensity spotty spring fire, however, average height of eastern
redbud was 17 feet (5 m) (as compared to 21 feet (6) on unburned plots).
On plots that had experienced a more uniform, intense fire, average
height of eastern redbud was 8 feet (2.4 m) only 1 year after the fire [28,36].
Germinable eastern redbud seeds were present in the seedbank but not
represented in the vegetation of a tallgrass prairie site that was
prescribed burned annually between 1978 and 1984. The seeds were not
reported from unburned sites or from sites that experienced fire at
4-year intervals .
Average crude protein for eastern redbud was slightly higher on plots
that had been treated with herbicide and fire than on untreated plots .
The Research Paper by Bowles and others 2007 provides information on
postfire responses of several plant species, including eastern redbud,
that was not available when this species review was written.
Immediate Effect of Fire
by sprouting. Eastern redbud developed clusters of root sprouts after
being top-killed by a prescribed spring fire to discourage the
encroachment of woody species onto a south-central Ohio prairie .
Eastern redbud is rated as fire tolerant due to its habit of sprouting
vigorously after top-kill by fire . However, it is not reported as a
postfire colonizer, and it is not a member of communities which
experience frequent fire.
At the prairie-forest ecotone, prairie fires limit the spread of woody
vegetation. The lack of fire, perhaps coupled with climatic factors,
has led to the encroachment of woodlands (in which eastern redbud
occurs) onto former prairies [1,9]. In eastern Kansas, eastern redbud
occurs in bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa)-chinkapin oak (Q. muehlenbergii)
stands which have established on former tallgrass prairie
(Andropogon-Panicum-Sorghastrum). These forests are normally confined
to galleries along rivers. Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) and eastern
redbud establish about 10 to 30 years after the cessation of fire (and
following oak establishment) in this area. Long fire-free periods allow
succession to proceed from shade intolerant oaks to more shade tolerant
hickories and eastern redbud. Eastern redbud may replace chinkapin oak
on steep, dry sites. Hackberry is more likely to become dominant on
moist sites . In southern Illinois, a prairie barren was treated
with four prescribed fires between 1969 and 1973 and subsequently
experienced no fires. Eastern redbud seedlings and saplings were first
recorded on the plots in 1983, 10 years after the last fire .
In central Oklahoma, eastern redbud occurred in post oak (Quercus
stellata)-blackjack oak (Q. marilandica) forest which had not
experienced recent fire, and was not reported for post oak-blackjack oak
savanna which is maintained by fire and edaphic conditions .
More info for the terms: hardwood, mesic, relative dominance
Facultative Seral Species
Eastern redbud is moderately tolerant of shade and grows well in full
sun. Flower and fruit production is best in full sun, but eastern
redbud's tolerance of full sunlight decreases in hot and dry areas
[50,54]. It has been hypothesized that eastern redbud and similar
midstory trees such as flowering dogwood attain a midstory canopy height
that maximizes interception of sunflecks (transitory periods of full sun
created by gaps in the canopy and the angle of the sun). If this is the
case, eastern redbud requires at least short periods of sunlight for
Eastern redbud apparently establishes in middle seres, forming a
midstory layer, often with flowering dogwood. In North Carolina,
eastern redbud and flowering dogwood developed as a distinct midstory
under an oldfield shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) canopy as the stand
approached middle age (85 years) . In western Tennessee, eastern
redbud was recorded on 28-year-old abandoned agricultural fields, but
not recorded on 3- and 12-year-old sites . In Texas, primary
succession in gravel pit excavations did not include eastern redbud even
on the 47-year-old site, although eastern redbud was present in adjacent
undisturbed forest . Eastern redbud is a characteristic midstory
species in mesic southern mixed hardwood forests which succeed
pine-hardwood mixtures, and could therefore be classed as a
late-successional species . It occurs, for example, in an
old-growth oak forest in northwestern Ohio  and it is present as
seedlings, saplings and mature trees in southern mixed hardwood forest
in north-central Florida . It may not, however, be stable in some
climax communities: eastern redbud was reported as decreasing in
importance and relative dominance in an oldgrowth oak (Quercus
spp.)-hickory (Carya spp.) forest in Illinois .
Although eastern redbud is not usually described as a pioneer species it
often increases in dominance on sites experiencing disturbance. It is
common on cutover or windthrown areas on calcareous soils . In
Indiana, a tornado caused severe windthrow in a sugar maple (Acer
saccharum)-Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra) stand. Prior to the tornado,
eastern redbud was a minor component in the stand. The most severely
damaged portion of the forest was still mostly open 7 years after the
disturbance and was dominated by sugar maple, elms (Ulmus spp.), Ohio
buckeye, and eastern redbud. Eastern redbud, which increased
dramatically in the first years after the tornado, will probably decline
in importance as taller species begin to close the canopy .
Eastern redbud reproduces by bird dispersed seeds . On average,
first reproduction occurs when an individual is about 15 feet tall (4.5
m), although sometimes blooming begins when trees are 5 to 7 feet
(1.5-2.1 m) in height . Pods may be borne by 5-year-old eastern
redbud, with a maximum reproductive age of 75 years. Good seed crops
usually occur in alternate years . The seeds exhibit combined
dormancy: internal dormancy plus a hard, impermeable seedcoat . In
nursery practice, both scarification and cold, moist stratification are
required for germination .
Eastern redbud sprouts from the roots or root crown following topkill .
Eastern redbud can be propagated by softwood cuttings .
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
Reaction to Competition
Life History and Behavior
More info for the term: tree
Eastern redbud flowers appear before the leaves from as early as
February in the southeastern United States to May [11,16,56]. In the
southern part of its range, eastern redbud pods are fully grown by the
end of May and ripen by September or October [16,56]. The pods split
open in late autumn to winter, sometimes persisting on the tree through
the winter [18,56].
Seed Production and Dissemination
For artificial propagation, seeds should be collected, cleaned, and dried when ripe to avoid insect damage. Dried seeds can be stored in sealed glass or metal containers at 2' to 5' C (35' to 41° F). Seed treatment is necessary for propagation because redbud shows delayed germination due to impermeability of the seed coat to water and dormancy of the embryo (1). The seed coat can be made permeable to water by mechanical scarification or by immersion in boiling water or in concentrated sulfuric acid for about 30 minutes. After scarifying, seeds should be stratified in moist sand at about 5° C (41' F) for 5 to 8 weeks (14).
Prepared seeds should be sown in well-prepared seedbeds in late April or early May (14). Moist soil should cover seeds at a maximum depth of 0.5 em (0.2 in). Propagation can also be accomplished by layering or cuttings.
Flowering and Fruiting
Growth and Yield
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Two subspecies of redbud have been identified: Texas redbud (Cercis canadensis var. texensis) found in southern Oklahoma, Trans-Pecos Texas, and southeastern New Mexico; and eastern redbud (C. canadensis var. canadensis) found in the remainder of the range of redbud (9). Another native Cercis species, California redbud (C. occidentalis), is found in Utah, Nevada, California and Arizona.
Barcode data: Cercis canadensis
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Cercis canadensis
Public Records: 3
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- Needs updating
- 1998Extinct(Oldfield et al. 1998)
- 1997Endangered(Walter and Gillett 1998)
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NX - Presumed Extirpated
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status (e.g. threatened or endangered species, state noxious status, and wetland indicator values).
Pests and potential problems
Eastern redbud has relatively few pests. Stem canker, leaf spots, and verticillium wilt may be a problem. The plants may experience some insect damage from leaf rollers, treehoppers, scales, leafhoppers, aphids, and spider mites, but damage is rarely severe.
On southern red oak (Quercus falcata) sites that were clearcut, eastern
redbud increased on plots where flowering dogwood, red maple (Acer
rubrum), and hickory (Carya spp.) were injected with herbicides. This
increase may be in part due to bird dispersed seed since bird activity
was high in this area .
The response of eastern redbud to tebuthiruon or triclopyr treatments
was reported by Stritzke and others . Neither of the herbicides
used resulted in more than 66 percent kill of eastern redbud, and by 2
years after the treatment, canopy cover of all species had increased to
94 percent (plots with no herbicides averaged 175% canopy cover) .
Picloram has been reported as effectively suppressing sprouting in
Eastern redbud is relatively free of serious insect pests and diseases
. It is fed upon by gypsy moth larvae (later stages) only when
preferred species are not available .
Eastern redbud is rated as moderately sensitive to ozone damage .
Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)
These plant materials are readily available from commercial sources. Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly Soil Conservation Service) office for more information. Look in the phone book under ”United States Government.” The Natural Resources Conservation Service will be listed under the subheading “Department of Agriculture.”
These plants require very little maintenance. The brown seedpods, which can cling to the branches until late in the year, can be somewhat unattractive.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Other uses and values
Eastern redbud is a popular ornamental . It is listed among trees
useful for xeriscaping (landscaping for minimal water use) . It is
sometimes a valuable source of nectar for honey production . The
flowers may be pickled for use in salads or fried (a common practice in
Mexico). An astringent fluid extract from redbud bark has been used in
treating dysentery .
Eastern redbud is the state tree of Oklahoma .
Value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites
Eastern redbud was planted on surface mined sites in Indiana between
1928 and 1975 . It is apparently no longer used much for this
Eastern redbud was present as a volunteer at a density of 40 stems per
acre on a 30-year-old plantation on a surface mined site in Missouri .
Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
Eastern redbud seeds or pods are eaten by quail, pheasants , other
birds including goldfinch , and deer . Birds will open pods on
the tree to get at the seeds . Deer and cattle browse young trees .
Eastern redbud occurs in Ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei) habitat which is
critical to endangered golden-cheeked warblers. The relationship of
eastern redbud to golden-cheeked warblers was not reported (the warblers
are primarily insectivorous) .
Wood Products Value
but weak . It is of no commercial value since the trees are rarely
large enough to provide merchantable timber .
eastern redbud on untreated plots and plots treated with herbicide and
fire over the course of a growing season .
white-tailed deer on the Edwards Plateau, Texas.
Bark of redbud has been used as an astringent in the treatment of dysentery. Flowers of the tree can be put into salads or fried and eaten (16). There is some documented wildlife use of redbud fruit. Cardinals have been observed feeding on the seeds, and seeds have been consumed by ring-necked pheasants rose-breasted grosbeaks (5), and bobwhites (7) White-tailed deer and gray squirrels have also been observed feeding on the seeds (5). Flowers of the tree are regarded as important in the production of honey by bees (10).
Ethnobotanic: The Alabama, Cherokee, Delaware, Kiowa, and Oklahoma were among the Native American tribes that used eastern redbud for various purposes. The bark was made into a tea to treat whooping cough. Taking cold infusions of the roots and inner bark treated fevers and congestion. An infusion of the bark was used to treat vomiting and fever. During winters, the plants were used for firewood. Because it is one of the first plants to flower in the spring, the blossoming branches were brought into the homes to “drive winter out.” Children were “fond of eating the blossoms” of eastern redbud.
Wildlife/Livestock: Many birds, including bobwhite quails, eat the seeds. White-tailed deer are among the animals that browse the foliage. Honeybees visit the blossoms. Livestock will browse on Eastern redbud.
Cercis canadensis (eastern redbud) is a large deciduous shrub or small tree, native to eastern North America from Southern Ontario, Canada south to northern Florida but can thrive as far west as California.
It typically grows to 6–9 m (20–30 ft) tall with a 8–10 m (26–33 ft) spread. It generally has a short, often twisted trunk and spreading branches. A 10-year-old tree will generally be around 5 m (16 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, and 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 (½ inch) long, appearing in clusters from Spring to early Summer, 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 (¼ 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).
In the United States, this tree is difficult to grow further west into arid areas west of western Kansas and Colorado, as there is not sufficient annual precipitation. Its far northern range of growth is the lower Midwest, Ohio Valley, to the south of Boston.
- Bark: Red brown, with deep fissures and scaly surface. Branchlets at first lustrous brown, later become darker.
- Wood: Dark reddish brown; heavy, hard, coarse-grained, not strong. Sp. gr., 0.6363; weight of cu. ft. 39.65 lbs.
- Winter buds: Chestnut brown, obtuse, one-eighth inch long.
- Leaves: Alternate, simple, heart-shaped or broadly ovate, two to five inches long, five to seven-nerved, chordate or truncate at the base, entire, acute. They come out of the bud folded along the line of the midrib, tawny green; when they are full grown they become smooth, dark green above, paler beneath. In autumn they turn bright clear yellow. Petioles slender, terete, enlarged at the base. Stipules caduceous.
- Flowers: April, May, before and with the leaves, papilionaceous. Perfect, rose color, borne four to eight together, in fascicles which appear at the axils of the leaves or along the branch and sometimes on the trunk itself.
- Calyx: Dark red, campanulate, oblique, five-toothed, imbricate in bud.
- Corolla: Papilionaceous, petals five, nearly equal, pink or rose color, upper petal the smallest, enclosed in the bud by the wings, and encircled by the broader keel petals.
- Stamens: Ten, inserted in two rows on a thin disk, free, the inner row rather shorter than the others.
- Pistil: Ovary superior, inserted obliquely in the bottom of the calyx tube, stipitate; style fleshy, incurved, tipped with an obtuse stigma.
- Fruit: Legume, slightly stipitate, unequally oblong, acute at each end. Compressed, tipped with the remnants of the style, straight on upper and curved on the lower edge. Two and a half to three inches long, rose color, full grown by midsummer, falls in early winter. Seeds ten to twelve, chestnut brown, one-fourth of an inch long -can be made to germinate by first dipping in boiled (99C) water (very hot) for a minute and then sowing in a pot (do not boil the seeds); cotyledons oval, flat.
C. canadensis is grown in parks and gardens, with several cultivars being available. The cultivar 'Forest Pansy', with purple leaves, has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.
Native Americans consumed redbud flowers raw or boiled, and ate roasted seeds. Analysis of nutritional components in edible parts of eastern redbud reported that:
- the flower extract contains anthocyanins,
- green developing seeds contained proanthocyanides, and
- linolenic, alpha-linolenic, oleic and palmitic acids to be present in seeds.
- Hilton-Taylor (2000). Cercis canadensis. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. www.iucnredlist.org. Retrieved on 5 May 2006.
- Keeler, Harriet L. (1900). Our Native Trees and How to Identify Them. New York: Charles Scriber's Sons. pp. 104–108.
- "RHS Plant Selector Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy'". Apps.rhs.org.uk. Retrieved 2013-06-13.
- Laura J. Hunter, et al. 2006. Analysis of nutritional components in edible parts of eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis L.). 62nd Southwest Regional American Chemical Society Meeting, Houston, Texas.
Names and Taxonomy
The currently accepted scientific name for eastern redbud is Cercis
canadensis L. (Fabaceae) . Texas redbud (C. c. var. texensis [Wats]
Hopkins) is recognized by some authorities . Others include Mexican
redbud (C. c. var. mexicana [Rose] Hopkins) . Clark and Bachtell
 report, however, that a common opinion among nursery workers is
that the two varieties represent environmentally induced morphologies
(i.e. more leathery leaves in more xeric conditions) and that C. c. var.
texensis and C. c. var. mexicana are all C. c. var. canadensis.
Information is reported by variety in this write-up.