General: Pea Family (Fabaceae). Western or California redbud is a leguminous shrub that grows from 7 to 20 feet tall with a dense rounded crown that almost reaches the ground. Western redbud is recognized as Cercis occidentalis in older floras. The leaves are simple, thick, round or reniform, and cordate at the base, and have from seven to nine prominent veins. They are winter deciduous; their autumn display of yellow turning to red and brown rivaling that of some eastern hardwoods. The striking pea-shaped flowers appear before the leaves, in small fascicles along the branches. Each flower has five petals that range in color from magenta pink to reddish purple. Pollination is by bumblebees (Bombus sp.) and orchard mason bees (Osmia lignaria). Although the pink sprays can be seen from February through April, any one shrub will remain in flower only about two weeks. In autumn the branches often bear many clusters of pointed, flat, vary thin pods, the upper suture with a conspicuous winged margin. In ripening, the pods are first purple and then russet-brown, each containing an average of seven hard, bean-like seeds. The mature pods persist into the next winter. Known from the southwest U.S.
Redbud, California redbud; also recognized as Cercis occidentalis Torr. ex Gray in The Jepson Manual (Hickman 1993) and Cercis occidentalis var. orbiculata (Greene) Tidestrom in other floras.
Regularity: Regularly occurring
States or Provinces
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):
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :
3 Southern Pacific Border
4 Sierra Mountains
6 Upper Basin and Range
7 Lower Basin and Range
12 Colorado Plateau
For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site. Native to California, Arizona, and Utah, redbud is found in at least five plant communities including oak woodland, chaparral, mixed conifer forest, riparian woodland, and closed cone forest.
California redbud is a native , deciduous [35,44,72] shrub-tree [11,36,48,49,54,64]. It can appear as a tree with arching canopies that almost reach the ground or a considerably shorter, many-stemmed shrub [68,72]. Plants generally occur singly, but they may form thickets in riparian zones .
California redbud plants are commonly from 7 to 20 feet (2-5 m) tall [35,54,55,76]. The tallest California redbud on record is 29 feet (8.8 m) . The stems are clustered and erect [36,54,55] and predominantly leafless . During the 1st year of life, California redbud stems are covered in hairs . The inflorescence is a 2- to 5-flowered raceme . The flowers are 8 to 12 mm long [54,55] and appear before the leaves [20,40,76]. The seedpod is a flat legume from 2 to 4 inches (4-9 cm) long and 0.8 to 1 inch (2-2.5 cm) wide [54,55]. Each seedpod contains 7 seeds  from 3 to 4 mm in diameter [54,55]
California redbud is intermediately tolerant of flooding in semiarid riparian zones. Intermediately tolerant is defined as a species that "is able to survive flooding for periods between 1 to 3 months during the growing season. The root systems of these plants may produce few new roots or will be dormant during the flooded period" .
Catalog Number: US 485475
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Verification Degree: Original publication and alleged type specimen examined
Preparation: Pressed specimen
Collector(s): L. N. Goodding
Year Collected: 1902
Locality: Diamond Valley., Utah, United States, North America
- Holotype: Greene, E. L. 1912. Repert. Spec. Nov. Regni Veg. 11: 111.
Comments: This taxon is found in chaparral, foothills woodlands, and exposed dry washes and protected valleys (David et al. 2002).
California redbud occurs on dry, shrubby slopes [35,39,44,54,55] and rocky plains , in canyons [35,39,44,54] and ravines [35,44], along streambanks [13,32,35,44] and washes , and in chaparral [32,35,44,54,55] and foothill woodland ecosystems [35,44,54].
In the foothills of northern California, California redbud occurs at low elevations on north-facing slopes or near seasonal water courses .
Elevation: The elevation ranges for California redbud in the 4 states where it occurs are presented in the table below:
|Arizona||4,000 to 6,000 feet [40,49]|
|California||400 to 5,000 feet [35,54,55]|
|Nevada||2,500 to 6,200 feet |
|Utah||2,168 to 4,053 feet [21,76]|
Habitat: Rangeland Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following Rangeland Cover Types (as classified by the Society for Range Management, SRM):
More info for the terms: cover, shrub
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES :
107 Western juniper/big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass
201 Blue oak woodland
202 Coast live oak woodland
203 Riparian woodland
204 North coastal shrub
205 Coastal sage shrub
206 Chamise chaparral
207 Scrub oak mixed chaparral
208 Ceanothus mixed chaparral
209 Montane shrubland
412 Juniper-pinyon woodland
413 Gambel oak
415 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany
416 True mountain-mahogany
417 Littleleaf mountain-mahogany
418 Bigtooth maple
503 Arizona chaparral
504 Juniper-pinyon pine woodland
505 Grama-tobosa shrub
509 Transition between oak-juniper woodland and mahogany-oak association
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
More info for the term: cover
SAF COVER TYPES :
222 Black cottonwood-willow
230 Douglas-fir-western hemlock
233 Oregon white oak
237 Interior ponderosa pine
238 Western juniper
240 Arizona cypress
241 Western live oak
243 Sierra Nevada mixed conifer
245 Pacific ponderosa pine
246 California black oak
247 Jeffrey pine
248 Knobcone pine
249 Canyon live oak
250 Blue oak-foothills pine
255 California coast live oak
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
More info for the term: shrub
KUCHLER  PLANT ASSOCIATIONS:
K005 Mixed conifer forest
K009 Pine-cypress forest
K010 Ponderosa shrub forest
K011 Western ponderosa forest
K026 Oregon oakwoods
K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland
K029 California mixed evergreen forest
K030 California oakwoods
K031 Oak-juniper woodland
K032 Transition between K031 and K037
K034 Montane chaparral
K035 Coastal sagebrush
K037 Mountain-mahogany-oak scrub
K053 Grama-galleta steppe
K057 Galleta-threeawn shrubsteppe
K058 Grama-tobosa shrubsteppe
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):
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES28 Western hardwoods
FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
FRES40 Desert grasslands
Key Plant Community Associations
California redbud/western poison ivy (Toxicodendron rydbergii)/scarlet monkeyflower (Mimulus cardinalis)
at Vasey's Paradise in the Grand Canyon 
Adaptation: It grows at elevations of 4,000 ft. or less, in canyons and on rather steep slopes, in gravely, and rocky soils along streams, where it is never flooded. It also grows in the bottom of ephemeral streambeds in little pockets, benches, or crannies of boulder outcroppings. The plant is drought tolerant, sun-loving, and grows in a wide variety of soils, but it is usually found in rather harsh environments with course, nutrient-poor soils that are well-drained. It grows mostly singly, but sometimes, in sheltered situations, in shrubby clumps.
If possible, gather the seed from local sources, to maintain genetic diversity of redbud. The seedpods can be collected in the fall of the year from September to November from redbud branches. Redbud seeds are adapted for prolonged periods of dryness and cold and they require special pretreatment to germinate, owing to an impervious seed coat plus a dormant embryo. One method is to place the seeds into a container and pour boiling water over them and let the seeds soak overnight. They can then be covered with damp peat moss and refrigerated for two months or they can be planted right away. The germination of redbud seed in the wild is favored by fire, which cracks the seed coat and generates the heat needed to stimulate germination.
Plant the treated seed in the fall in flats, spacing the seeds approximately one to two inches apart. Use a slow-release fertilizer in the planting mix. Cover with about a quarter-inch of soil (approximately 3 to 4 times the width of the seed). To reduce the possibility of damping off, keep the flats outdoors in a protected area with partial shade and little wind. Water the flats through the winter and the let the plants grow one full year before planting them out. The seedlings will be about three inches to one foot tall by the following fall. Plant the seedlings in a sunny location with good drainage. If gophers are a problem, plant redbud seedlings in cages. Watering is not necessary until the following summer, in a normal rainfall year. Give the young plants summer water for the first three years in the ground. This amounts to once every two weeks in a hot climate and less in a coastal climate. Do not over water, as redbud will not tolerate summer water in the root crown area (at the soil level) and will suffer crown rot (Phytophthora sp.) if over-watered. When leaves first emerge in the spring, use liquid fertilizer to boost growth.
Fire Management Considerations
The limited research presented above suggests that fire favors California redbud. However, land managers should use caution if fire is used to promote California redbud growth. While fire can be suitable for the management of California redbud, it may have unintended consequences on the plant communities where it is used. In a review, Keeley  recommends against prescribed burning in California chaparral. Because fire frequencies have increased, not decreased, with European settlement, populations of obligate seeding shrubs in chaparral have been reduced, and prescription burning would only exacerbate the situation. Thus, fire prevention and fire exclusion may be needed to restore native plant communities in the chaparral .
Broad-scale Impacts of Plant Response to Fire
Summer prescription burning of California redbud at Ellis Ranch, California,
caused significant (p<0.05) decreases in California redbud canopy cover
at postfire month 2 and postfire year 1. Prior to burning, the area was "preburn prepared" by crushing
brush and interior live oak with a bulldozer and selectively cutting gray pine and interior live oak for
firewood. Prior to the preburn preparation during the summer of 1986, California
redbud cover was 2%. Following the preburn preparation and prior to the
prescription fire, California redbud significantly increased to 18% cover. The
prescription burn occurred in August 1987 and vegetation sampling occurred in October 1987
(postfire month 2), November 1988 (postfire year
1), 1989 (postfire year 2), and in November 1995 (postfire year 8). Two months following the burn, there were
no California redbud seedlings found on the burn site. At postfire year 1, 364 California redbud seedlings
were counted on the burn site. The following table gives mean canopy cover of
California redbud before the preburn preparation, after the preburn preparation,
and at 4 dates following prescription burning. While it is not clear in the
research literature, it is assumed that California redbud canopy cover includes sprouts and
|Preproject 1986||Postpreparation 1987||Postfire month 2||Postfire year 1||Postfire year 2||Postfire year 8|
Immediate Effect of Fire
POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY :
Tall shrub, adventitious bud/root crown
Secondary colonizer (on-site or off-site seed sources)
FIRE REGIMES: Research literature on California redbud is primarily centered on its occurrence in California chaparral and oak woodlands. Both of these community types can have lightning-ignited fires and have long been affected by anthropogenic fire, starting with Native Americans [2,42,43]. Prior to European settlement, the western Mono, foothill Yokuts, and Miwok Native Americans of the central and southern Sierra Nevada foothills set autumn fires at intervals of 1 to several years to induce rapid elongation of young growth of California redbud (see Other Uses) [1,2,4,5,6]. They also actively burned to keep down shrubs and trees and maintain an open, park-like woodland that aided hunting and favored certain food crops . Fire exclusion policies were implemented as European settlers entered the area in the late 19th century, again altering the chaparral and oak woodland communities [3,4]. With so much historical human interference in the oak woodlands and chaparral of California, gauging the historic or presettlement fire return interval in these communities is difficult and often debated. In a review by Keeley , evidence is offered that fire frequency in California chaparral has increased, not decreased, due to human-caused accidental fires (see Fire Management Considerations).
In oak woodlands, California redbud is often found in canyon live oak (Quercus chrysolepis), blue oak-gray pine (Q. douglasii-Pinus sabiniana), and interior live oak (Q. wislizenii) community types. The fire return interval in these communities is from <35 to <100 years . The fire return interval of stand-replacement fires in California chaparral varies, depending upon species composition. In reviews, Keeley and Keeley [41,43] stated that modal frequency of stand-replacement fires in California chaparral ranges from 20 to 30 years, and Paysen and others  reported fire return intervals ranging from less than 35 years to about every 100 years. Relatively long fire-return intervals are typical of chaparral dominated by obligate seeding species such as waveyleaf ceanothus (Ceanothus foliosus) , while relatively short fire-return intervals favor spouting chaparral species such as chamise [41,43].
The following table provides fire return intervals for plant communities and ecosystems where California redbud is important. For further information, see the FEIS review of the dominant species listed below.
|Community or Ecosystem||Dominant Species||Fire Return Interval Range (years)|
|California chaparral||Adenostoma and/or Arctostaphylos spp.||<35 to <100|
|sagebrush steppe||Artemisia tridentata/Pseudoroegneria spicata||20-70|
|coastal sagebrush||Artemisia californica||<35 to <100|
|grama-galleta steppe||Bouteloua gracilis-Pleuraphis jamesii||<35 to <100|
|blue grama-tobosa prairie||Bouteloua gracilis-Pleuraphis mutica||<35 to <100|
|California montane chaparral||Ceanothus and/or Arctostaphylos spp.||50-100 |
|curlleaf mountain-mahogany*||Cercocarpus ledifolius||13-1,000 [9,66]|
|mountain-mahogany-Gambel oak scrub||Cercocarpus ledifolius-Quercus gambelii||<35 to <100|
|Arizona cypress||Cupressus arizonica||<35 to 200|
|western juniper||Juniperus occidentalis||20-70 |
|pine-cypress forest||Pinus-Cupressus spp.||9-63 [7,70,74]|
|pinyon-juniper||Pinus-Juniperus spp.||<35 |
|Colorado pinyon||Pinus edulis||10-400+ [28,31,41,57]|
|Jeffrey pine||Pinus jeffreyi||5-30|
|Pacific ponderosa pine*||Pinus ponderosa var. ponderosa||1-47 |
|interior ponderosa pine*||Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum||2-30 [8,10,47]|
|galleta-threeawn shrubsteppe||Pleuraphis jamesii-Aristida purpurea||<35 to <100 |
|California mixed evergreen||Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii-Lithocarpus densiflorus-Arbutus menziesii||<35|
|California oakwoods||Quercus spp.||<35 |
|oak-juniper woodland (Southwest)||Quercus-Juniperus spp.||<35 to <200 |
|coast live oak||Quercus agrifolia||2-75 |
|canyon live oak||Quercus chrysolepis||<35 to 200|
|blue oak-foothills pine||Quercus douglasii-P. sabiniana||<35|
|Oregon white oak||Quercus garryana||<35 |
|California black oak||Quercus kelloggii||5-30 |
|interior live oak||Quercus wislizenii||<35 |
More info for the terms: association, succession
California redbud is found on disturbed sites such as burns  and is found in several stages of succession [22,29,50]. While it can withstand shade , more than light shading can cause a reduction in flower production .
At Ellis Ranch, California, California redbud occurs on "early succession" burn sites [29,50]. California redbud is an important species in the late-seral conifer forest-chaparral association of northern California .
Seed production: California redbud produces abundant crops of legumes, but seed set is variable .
Seed dispersal: California redbud seeds are dispersed by wind, birds, and animals .
Seed banking: California redbud utilizes a seed bank .
|J.S. Peterson @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS DATABASE|
Germination:California redbud seeds require scarification and stratification for germination [44,48,53]. The seeds are adapted to prolonged periods of dryness and cold due to an impervious seed coat and a dormant embryo [1,34,72].
There are no field studies of California redbud seed longevity to date (2006); however, California redbud seeds remained viable for 12 years or more when stored in a freezer at 5% to 9% humidity and 0Â°F (-18 Â°C) .
Seedling establishment/growth: California redbud seedlings have a "rapid" growth rate .
Asexual regeneration: California redbud may regenerate asexually by sprouting from boles damaged by fire .
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
Plant Response to Fire
California redbud establishes following fire by seed  and/or sprouting from the bole . The seed is dispersed onto burned sites by wind, birds, and mammals . California redbud also utilizes a seed bank . As of this review (2006), there is no information on seed tolerance to fire. Seed insulated by soil is probably well protected from fire.
While there is little scientific information regarding California redbud's response to fire, Native Americans in the Sierra Nevada burned California redbud every several years, or even annually, to promote growth of young sprouts (see Other Uses) [1,2,3,4,5,6]. Further, a summer prescription fire in an interior live oak-gray pine community promoted California redbud sprouting or establishment from seed in postfire years 1, 2, and 3 . This suggests that fire promotes California redbud sprouting.
With such a dearth of information regarding California redbud response to fire, further fire research is sorely needed on this plant species.
Life History and Behavior
More info for the term: formation
Depending upon the ecosystem, California redbud flowers from February to June [11,39,72]. In more temperate sections of the California coast, California redbud tends to bloom poorly in the spring because temperatures are too warm to facilitate flower bud formation .
On moist California chaparral sites, California redbud leaves are normally present from April through October , and fruit ripening occurs from July to September . While the flowering period of California redbud covers several months, individual plants only remain in flower for approximately 2 weeks .
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Cercis occidentalis
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Cercis occidentalis
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: TNR - Not Yet Ranked
Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status and wetland indicator values.
To simulate the burning of
California redbud, the southern Miwok of California manage the
plant by coppicing (cutting the plant to within several inches of its base) and
selective pruning. California redbud responds to coppicing/pruning as it does to
fire, by growing new shoots that are long, straight, and slender,
making them ideal for basket-making. Coppicing/pruning generally occurs 1 full growing
season prior to harvest. In the Sierra National Forest, coppicing of California
redbud plants produced a significantly (p<0.05) greater
number of usable branches for basket-making than plants not coppiced .
The red humped caterpillar is a common defoliator of California redbud plants in California [17,52,58,60,61].
The larvae of red humped caterpillars can consume an average of 0.4 inchÂ² of California redbud foliage per day .
Bacillus thuringiensis, an insecticidal bacterium, can control red humped caterpillar larvae [17,17,58,60,61].
Bacillus thuringiensis is also an effective deterrent for the fruit tree leafroller,
which causes serious leaf defoliation in California redbud plants .
California redbud is highly susceptible to a fungal canker caused by
Botryosphaeria ribis and B. dothidea [62,65].
Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)
CEOR9 is readily available through most nurseries within its range. 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.”
Pruning: Periodic pruning of redbud, after it has reached the minimum age of 5 years, can be accomplished to remove dead or dying branches that might harbor diseases or insects. Pruning should take place in the fall, winter, or early spring, after leaf drop and during the dormant period. Contemporary Native American weavers practice two types of pruning. One technique is coppicing where the whole plant is cut to within several inches of the ground. Redbud vigorously resprouts from the coppice stool, sending up young straight shoots with a beautiful red pigment. This can bring added color to gardens and also these shoots are highly valued for basket weaving. Coppicing, however, should only be done on mature shrubs--at least a decade old. Flowering will be lost, until the young sprouts are two to three years old and shed the red pigment and form true bark. The other technique is selective pruning within the canopy to direct the growth of the plant. This pruning, leaves some older flowering branches, important for bees and butterflies.
Burning: Before Euro-American settlement of California, Native Americans conducted purposeful burning of hillsides in the fall of the year, after redbud has shed its leaves, to encourage the growth of young, straight shoots used extensively in basketry. Redbud also resprouts vigorously after fires.
A pathogen that infects redbud leaves is Alternaria sp. while Botrytis sp. is a gray mold that causes foliage or flower blight. Two fungi that cause root rot in redbud include Fusarium solani and Verticillium dahliae. A fungus that infects old seedpods is Didymella leguminis-cytisis. Most of these diseases will debilitate, but not kill redbud. Fire is an effective tool to use to eliminate the above-ground pathogens inhabiting redbud.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites
California redbud is a "good" soil stabilizer along degraded stream banks . In California, it has been successfully used to revegetate roadside cuts on Mount Palomar  and to prevent erosion and provide cover along Tapo Canyon Creek .
There is 1 California redbud cultivar ('common') available .
Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
There is little information on the importance of California redbud to livestock and wildlife. California redbud is moderately important as fall (prior to leaf fall) and spring (April-May) browse for mule deer [11,64], but is of little to no use to domestic goats, horses, and other livestock species [11,64]. Domestic goats, domestic sheep, and cattle favor the young shoots, leaves, and seedpods . California redbud is important for bees that depend upon the nectar from its flowers . The only other reference to California redbud and its importance to wildlife found in the literature (2006) refers to coyotes in eastern Tehama County, California, which depend minimally on California redbud fruits .
Palatability/nutritional value: No information is available on this topic.
Cover value: Currently (2006) there is no literature addressing the cover value of California redbud. However, given its height [35,54,55,76] and arching canopy [68,72], it likely provides cover for a variety of mammal and bird species.
Other uses and values
California redbud is important for the western Mono, foothill Yokuts, and Miwok Native Americans of the central and southern Sierra Nevada of California. Young California redbud shoots, owing to their brilliant red color and straight, flexible structure, are used for basketry [1,2,3,4,5,6]. While not identified by name, other Native American nations also used California redbud shoots in basketry . In the American Southwest, Native Americans used California redbud roots and bark as a remedy for diarrhea and dysentery [11,45]. Beyond medicinal and basketry purposes, the Navajo roasted the seedpods of California redbud in ashes and ate the seeds [19,25].
Ethnobotanic: Western redbud is highly valued by Native American basket weavers in California for their young, wine-red branches, harvested in the fall and used in the warp, weft, and designs of baskets. If the branches are harvested in the spring when the bark slips, the white inner sapwood may also be used as the weft or lacing in baskets.
Other: Uses include the following: landscaping, furniture, browsing, and stream stabilization. Western redbud is a good soil stabilizer along streams, and can withstand periodic flooding. The flowers provide nectar to bees and the young shoots, leaves, and seedpods are browsed by goats, and too a limited extent by deer, sheep, and cattle. The browse rating though for sheep and cattle is poor. Horticulturists have planted redbud in informal and formal gardens and landscapes since 1886 and it has been called one of California's most attractive flowering shrubs in gardeners' manuals and horticultural guides.
Cercis occidentalis, the western redbud or California redbud (syn. Cercis orbiculata — Greene), is a small tree or shrub in the legume family. It is found across the American Southwest, from California to Utah and Arizona.  
It is easily recognized when it is in bloom from March to May, when it is covered with small pink to purple flowers.
Cercis occidentalis has thin, shiny brown branches that bear shiny heart-shaped leaves which are light green early in the season and darken as they age. Leaves on plants at higher elevation may turn gold or red as the weather cools.
The showy flowers are bright pink or magenta, and grow in clusters all over the shrub, making the plant very colorful and noticeable in the landscape. The shrub bears 3-inch-long brown legume pods which are very thin and dry.
Indigenous Californians use the twigs of the western redbud to weave baskets, and even prune the shrub to encourage growth of new twigs. The bark provides a faint reddish dye for the finished basketry. The Concow tribe calls the tree dop (Konkow language) or tal'k.
Cercis occidentalis is cultivated as an ornamental plant and tree, for planting in parks and gardens, and as a street tree. It is also used in drought tolerant, native plant, and wildlife gardens. 
- Cercis occidentalis species account from ARS Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN) . accessed 3.23.2013
- USDA: Cercis orbiculata . accessed 3.23.2013
- Chesnut, Victor King (1902). Plants used by the Indians of Mendocino County, California. Government Printing Office. p. 404. Retrieved 24 August 2012.
- Chesnut, p. 408
- Las Pilitas Nursery database — Cercis occidentalis (Western Redbud) . accessed 3.23.2013
- Casebeer, M. (2004). Discover California Shrubs. Sonora, California: Hooker Press. ISBN 0-9665463-1-8
Names and Taxonomy
Greene (Fabaceae) .
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