Eastern Redbud: Cercis Canadensis L.

Redbud in bloom

Redbud is a small tree which is inundated with mauve blossoms in late April to early May before leaves develop. It competes with forsythia in providing a spectacular spring show.

Although redbud is part of the Carolinian forest, south-western Ontario is the absolute northern limit of its range. Contrary to its Latin name, most American publications list it as native only to eastern United States from northern Florida to Vermont and west to the prairies. However a late eighteenth century letter describes a redbud tree at the tip of Point Pelee which at the time was being eroded by waves and subsequently lost to further inquiry. But it is this reference which Ontario botanists cite to prove that redbud is a native to southern Ontario. Redbuds which grow wild in southern Ontario are assumed to come from Michigan seed stock.

As a small tree, redbud is shade tolerant and can grow in the under story of the forest. As it grows it thrives in more sunlight so most redbuds are found among forest edges where more sunlight can penetrate. There the tree takes on angular elongated shapes as branches reach horizontally toward sunlight. When these branches bloom in early spring they provide dramatic colour as the background forest presents a light green while leaf buds emerge.

Because of its spectacular spring display redbud is widely used as a landscape tree. It is a legume tree whose seed develops in pods like peas. The tree is not used for lumber. It’s bark has been used as an astringent in the treatment of dysentery. The flowers can be eaten in salads. Birds, deer, and squirrels eat the seed. And the flowers are regarded as an important early season nectar source for bees.

Redbud is also known as the Judas tree. European religious legend suggests Judas Iscariot hanged himself on the European redbud species after his betrayal led to the crucifixion of Jesus.

Our neighbour, living on the west side of the path between Pine Ridge and Highpoint has two small trees in the backyard which are easily seen from the path. Wander up through the path in early May to view the display.

Five two year old redbud seedlings were planted in the co-op in spring 2006 in the naturalizing area between block two and the road. As it takes seven years for redbud to flower, look for a display in 2011.

This article appeared in the May 2007 edition of the Beaver Creek DAM Newsletter