Origin: Eastern North America
Eastern redbud is a small tree with a rounded, spreading crown and a forked trunk.Read more about Tree, Bark, Twigs
Leaves are heart-shaped or rounded with smooth edges.Read more about Leaves
Pink, showy, pea-like flowers are borne in clusters of 4 - 8 on the branches and the trunk.Read more about Flowers
Fruits are flat reddish-brown pods, tapered at both ends, hanging in clusters from short stalks.Read more about Fruit
Eastern redbud is a small tree, 4 - 8 m (13' - 26') high with a rounded, spreading crown and forking branches.
Twigs are fairly slender and zig-zagged with protruding leaf scars. They are reddish-brown and hairless.
Lateral buds are pressed against the twig. They have 5 or 6 dark reddish-brown scales. There may be a second smaller bud present.
Leaves are nearly round 8 - 13 cm (3" - 5") long, usually tapering to a short tip, and with a heart-shaped or round base and smooth edges.
Five to nine main veins radiate from the leaf stalk, which is swollen where it joins the base of the leaf.
Eastern redbud's status as a native plant in Canada is based on a single observation on the south end of Pelee Island in 1892 by the Canadian botanist John Macoun. As described in Trees of the Carolinian Forest by Gerry Waldron, Macoun noted that "it had been undermined by the waves and fallen inland, and more than half its limbs were dead." Although officially regarded as extirpated in Ontario, eastern redbud has been successfully planted in various parts of Southern Ontario as an ornamental tree. Offspring of these trees have escaped cultivation and spread to natural areas so eastern redbud can once again be found growing wild. Eastern redbud is native to a large area of the United States, as far south as Florida, and in Mexico. Its exact range pre-European settlement is not clearly known because it has been cultivated for so long and has naturalized in the wild.
Eastern redbud grows in the shady deciduous forest understory, along with flowering dogwood and other small trees. Eastern redbud grows in many different forest types but it is not a common tree in any of them.
The flowers grow mostly on second year wood but also on older wood and even on the trunk - a feature known as cauliflory that is more commonly found in the tropics. It is thought that the swelling on the leaf stalk near the leaf blade may indicate that redbud once had compound leaves (like other members of its family) with the leaf representing the original terminal leaflet.
Derivation of names
Eastern redbud is also referred to as Judas-tree, from a legend that Judas Iscariot hanged himself from the European species Cercis siliquastrum which is called Judas-tree. However, the name Judas-tree may have been confused with Judea's tree.
The genus name, Cercis, comes from the Greek kerkis, which is the ancient name for the European Cercis siliquastrum, mentioned above. The species name, canadensis, is the Latin form of Canadian, a term used at the time this species was named to refer to "a region of north-eastern America, partly in Canada, mostly in the United States...roughly from Philadelphia and New York northward...to Montreal and Quebec and from Albany westward to Lake Ontario and Niagara Falls" (Stearn 1957).
Redbud refers to the deep magenta flower buds, which are conspicuous on the bare branches.
Eastern redbud is the state tree of Oklahoma.
Eastern redbud has no commercial value as timber but is a popular landscape tree.
Eastern redbud's place in Toronto's urban forest
Eastern redbud's pink flowers offer one of the most colourful springtime displays. It is increasingly planted in parks, front yards and boulevards as an ornamental tree. The trend to plant more native species has led to redbud becoming a popular choice, even though it is unlikely that redbud ever grew in the Toronto region before European settlement.
Landscape value and potential for home use
Eastern redbud's small size and colourful flowers make it an ideal tree for a small space. Trees begin to flower at only 5 years of age. Because it grows naturally in the forest understory, it can withstand some shade. However, it will attain its greatest growth if allowed ample sunlight. Eastern redbud is adaptable to different soil conditions, but grows best in moist, deep, well-drained soils. It is best protected from the wind, as the acutely forked branches are susceptible to splitting.
There is a white-flowered variety (alba ) and several cultivars including the purple-leaved Forest Pansy which is prized for its fall foliage.
Pests and diseases: The most serious disease affecting Eastern redbud is canker, which can kill several of its branching stems. Eastern redbud may also be affected by leaf spots or Verticillum wilt, which causes sudden wilting on one or more branches. Some defoliating insects, such as caterpillars, leaf hoppers, and tree hoppers can feed on the leaves.
This tree is available for planting through LEAF's backyard tree program.
Links to maps at Canadian Tree Tours: