Eastern redbuds (Cercis canadensis) are one of the first trees to bloom in the spring with deep pink flowers that take on a purple hue from a distance. While the seeds hold little appeal as wildlife food, redbud adds value to a habitat garden by providing a food source for early pollinators on warm spring days. A native to the southeastern United States, eastern redbud is a beautiful small tree with a gentle appeal, large heart shaped leaves, and a rounded form. With the surge in interest in gardening with native plants nurserymen have been giving the eastern redbud more attention and come up with some beautiful cultivars. These cultivars offer homeowners a wildlife friendly, native alternative to sterile and semi sterile flowering cherry or plums.
Redbuds are easy to grow and make a fine ornamental flowering tree. If watered well when young, redbud will develop a deep taproot and usually have no issues with surface roots coming up in a yard. While redbuds can grown in full sun, they are naturally found in the woods as an understory tree and this should be kept in mind in the southernmost areas of it’s zones. In some areas they will prefer partial shade. They are usually considered for Zones 5-9.
‘Forest Pansy’ - Wine red leaves on a 15′-25′ tree, ‘Forest Pansy’ is a tried and true redbud. New foliage is glossy and finely veined, turning red with a green tint as it matures. Here in the deep south (7b), Forest Pansy needs a little shade to keep the leaves looking full all summer long. Fall color can be reds, oranges, purples, and yellows.
‘Merlot’ – The new generation of wine red redbuds, ‘Merlot’ has shown to be more drought and heat tolerant than it’s predecessors. A cross between ‘Forest Pansy’ and Cercis canadensis var. texensis, ’Merlot’ has a slightly smaller leaf and more of a green tint to foliage as it matures than ‘Forest Pansy’. At 12’-15’, it can be a beautiful tree for a front yard or accent.
‘The Rising Sun‘™ – A brightly colored new introduction that is becoming more readily available on the commercial market. Spring foliage is an apricot orange which matures to yellow and then to a lime green. All three colors can appear on the tree at once for a very showy display. ‘The Rising Sun’™ is more resistant to heat and burn than other redbuds. Fall color is a golden yellow.
‘Solar Eclipse’ – A variegated form of ‘The Rising Sun’, ‘Solar Eclipse’ has the resistant to heat and burn of it’s parent however there have been some issues with this cultivar reverting back to species. This mean you would end up with a ‘The Rising Sun’ redbud which may not be a bad thing however may not be what you intended. ‘Solar Eclipse’ is still in the testing phase.
Weeping ‘Lavender Twist’™ – A green leaved redbud for the smaller garden, ‘Lavender Twist’ has a weeping form. It can grow 6′-10′ or be trained to grow smaller should you wish. It will fully weep, allowing it to be used in small space habitat gardens, as an accent or specimen tree.
Weeping ‘Ruby Falls’ – Weeping form and large red foliage is eye catching in any garden. After spring flowers, wine red leaves appear which will change to deep green during the summer. The deep color makes a dramatic statement and it’s small size of 4′-6′ make it suitable for a small space landscape.
If you are looking for a flowering ornamental tree, please consider a native redbud over a sterile alien such as flowering cherry. Redbuds help our pollinators at a time of the year when food is difficult to find and allows us to co-exist with wildlife. With the dramatic new colors and shapes, redbud can also offer any garden visual interest for all seasons.
Photos courtesy of The Kinsey Family Farm.
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