Redbuds in Bloom

It has been a cold and rainy spring here in the Washington area so far. The Tidal Basin Yoshino cherries bloomed late, forcing the mobs who wanted to stroll under their gorgeous branches to bundle up as if it were still late February.

Now it’s mid-April, and the weather is warming up a bit. My crabapple is getting ready to burst into bloom (the parts that don’t have fireblight, that is . . . sigh). In the meantime I’ve been admiring another one of my favorite spring trees, the Eastern  redbud (or Cercis canadensis).

Cercis canadensis

A redbud tree as a specimen in a suburban DC front yard.

This tree’s buds form directly on the branches, before the leaves come out, and are usually a very intense purple-pink shade.

Cercis candensis, Forest Pansy

Cercis canadensis buds on a tree limb in early spring.

Before you know it, the limbs are literally covered in these buds, which expand into small blossoms.

Cercis canadensis

Cercis candensis in bloom

A favorite type of redbud for designers around here to include in residential gardens is called “Forest Pansy.” Its leaves are burgundy, as opposed to green, unless the weather gets too hot, in which case the unusual color can fade.

Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy', redbud, foliage

The foliage on a Forest Pansy cultivar has a reddish tint. Note the heart-shaped leaves.

These trees have stout trunks and a spreading habit – give them room when siting them. They rarely grow over 25′ tall, and have life spans of 35-40 years – nothing like an oak or maple. But in the right place in the landscape they can add a lot in spring.

Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy,' redbud

A Forest Pansy redbud brightens an early-spring landscape.

For those who crave something a little more exotic, you can look for a Chinese redbud, or Cercis chinensis. The National Arboretum developed a cultivar of this rarer version of the redbud some years ago, called ‘Don Egolf,’ but I haven’t been able to find it except occasionally from mail-order firms. When I was down at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden the first weekend in April, however, I spotted several C. chinensis ‘Avondale’ trees.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Cercis chinensis 'Avondale', Chinese redbud

A Cercis chinensis tucked into a mixed border at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Their habit is very different from that of a regular redbud – much more upright in shape, making them ideal for including in tighter spaces. When I saw one on its own around the corner from this one, however, I didn’t care for the way it looked as a specimen standing alone – it seemed like a bunch of large redbud branches stuck into a vase, like a crape myrtle trying to sprout pink buds along its branches from the ground up. Still, I wouldn’t mind finding a way to include one in a mixed border of trees, like here. Especially in the garden, variety can add spice to life.

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6 Comments on “Redbuds in Bloom”

  1. Laurrie Says:

    These are lovely trees, thanks for the profiles! Still waiting for my redbuds to open and color up. I have an Oklahoma redbud, with very glossy leaves, and a tiny Silver Cloud with variegated white and green leaves, but it is struggling. And there is an unnamed one out in the meadow that is about six or seven years old that has never bloomed despite growing well and looking healthy. Not sure why.

    • Melissa Says:

      I’ve seen the Oklahoma variety, but never the Silver Cloud (can feel an attack of plant envy coming on!). I have a client with three Forest Pansy’s, but only one of them blooms with regularity. In her case I suspect excess shade is the culprit with the non-blooming ones, but it sounds as if the one in your meadow wouldn’t have that problem, so it’s failure to bloom is indeed a mystery.

  2. gardeningasylum Says:

    Hi Melissa, My local nursery guy nicknames these trees ‘deadbuds’ as he feels they’re not completely hardy this far north. I defied him and bought a small straight species, which is so far doing well, but not blooming the way they do farther south – I have this vivid memory of the glowing redbuds of a Charleston spring, not to be in CT!

    • Melissa Says:

      Deadbuds, huh? I hadn’t really thought of these as a tree that didn’t like colder climes but perhaps there’s something to that. It sounds as though you have some buds but not as many as you’d like. Is it in a sheltered spot or out in the open?

      • Jean Says:

        Cyndy and Melissa, I always think anything called “canadensis” will be cold-hardy. I just checked the USDA plants database, and they list Cercis canadensis as native to most of the eastern US, including Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York, and also native to southern Ontario. I wonder if the breeding programs to enhance other characteristics have made the cultivars less cold-hardy.


  3. […] it is becoming easier and easier to replace the nursery standards with native stand-ins: redbud for crape myrtle, for instance. Or plume grass (Erianthus) instead of the switchgrass (Miscanthus), […]


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