The Redbud Tree

The redbud tree is a spring favorite throughout the Eastern United States. There is nothing so beautiful after a long, hard winter than this small, hardy tree just covered from top to bottom with pinkish flowers. It’s not big as trees go, only 20-30 feet tall, with beautiful spreading branches that are 15-20 feet across.

A unique thing you will notice right away with the redbud tree, is that the flowers seem to just explode right out of the trunk.  The tree has heart-shaped leaves which are green in summer and change to yellow in the fall. Each limb has the smaller branches growing in what appears to be a zigzag pattern.

At the Arbor Day Society, the redbud has made it to the short list of those to be considered as a national tree. It is native to North America, and early American settlers are said to have used the redbud’s flowers in salads. The bark has been used for medicinal purposes. The tree can be found up and down the East Coast and west to the plains, growing best in zones 4-9. The redbud tree has also always been known as the Eastern Redbud, but now a smaller tree has taken on the name of California redbud.

The redbud tree is called “the Judas Tree,” because history has it that the redbud is a relative of the type of tree on which Judas Iscariot hanged himself. Folklore suggests that it is now a deciduous or a softwood tree with gentle branches so that it will not be strong enough for someone to hang themselves on it again.

If you are thinking of planting a redbud tree, you should do so in soil that is well-drained. The tree withstands summer heat but is best placed where it can have afternoon shade. The tree needs to be pruned regularly--the best times being in the fall or in the spring after it has lost its flowers.

Another interesting fact about the redbud tree is that it uses nitrogen from the air as a nutrient and may have antioxidant properties. It is, surprisingly, a member of the bean and pea family. It has also been cultivated to have 4-5 different varieties now available. One of the most popular is the “Forest Pansy Redbud,” which has scarlet flowers and red leaves in the spring turning more burgundy in color in the fall. . Another type, “Cascading Hearts,” was patented in 2008, and is described as being a “weeping plant” with “densely foliated growth.” It has reddish-green leaves that are dark green in summer.

The redbud tree is bothered by several kinds of insects and plant diseases. Pests to watch out for are treehoppers, scale insects, and spider mites. The most common disease is canker, which is caused by a fungus. It affects around fifty different types of trees, and is spread by wind and rain. It enters the tree through a wound or dead branch. The bark of the redbud tree is very thin and easily damaged so you have to be careful not to make a wound yourself. Other redbud tree diseases are leaf spots and verticillium wilt.