These stunning showoffs bloom early and extravagantly from open woodlands to city streets and parks.
Awbury Arboretum‘s Year of Trees shines the spotlight this month on a real local beauty, the Eastern Redbud, a compact deciduous tree that’s widespread throughout the area, from rustic riversides to the most manicured lawns. It’s the first tree to flower each spring, in a profusion of blossoms along every otherwise bare branch — a rare trait in temperate climates. And its beauty lasts well beyond spring, as the fading flowers give way to heart-shaped green to bronze leaves in summer and curling brown pods that remain on the tree after the leaves fall.
Native to North America, the Eastern Redbud can grow up to 30 feet tall and though it’s a short-lived tree (average lifespan is 20 – 30 years), it can live up to 75 years with good care, plenty of sunshine, and moist, well-drained soil. But what really sets it apart from other trees is its stunning, feathery blooms. From far away, you might think it’s something out of a Dr. Seuss book or a fairy tale. But up close, the intricate flowers reveal themselves, forming clusters of 4-8 on the main stem or older branches.
The blossoms of redbuds look a lot like pea blossoms, which makes sense since they’re in the same legume plant family (Fabaceae). They’re edible, too! They have a mild, sweet flavor and crisp texture some say tastes like snow peas. They’re great in salads, as are the raw unopened buds which have a bright, citrusy taste (you can pickle them, too, as a caper substitute). 😋
The Eastern Redbud attracts all kinds of pollinators, from honeybees to butterflies and moths. And if you’re really into variety, there are cultivars of the Eastern Redbud that offer even more creative variations. Check out the “Silver Cloud”, with its spattered variations of white and green leaves, or the “Rising Sun” cultivar, which sprouts golden-orange leaves that mature to yellow and then revert to green.
The Eastern Redbud is a tough tree that can adapt to a wide range of site conditions, from different types of soil to levels of sun exposure. And it’s been around for a long time — the Spanish made distinctions between the New World species and their cousins in the Mediterranean region way back in 1571. Even George Washington was a fan! He wrote in his diary about the tree’s beauty and spent hours transplanting seedlings obtained from the nearby forest.
In fact, the Eastern Redbud is so beloved that it was adopted as the state tree of Oklahoma back in 1937, where it paints the landscape in gorgeous swaths of pink every spring as the winter subsides. 🌸🌸🌸
More details in author and expert Dan Sardaro’s original article on Awbury’s website, where he provides great local context including the best trail to enjoy a full-on Redbud wonderland at Awbury. Follow Dan’s excellent blog with a whole calendar of special “tree-mendous” events throughout the year!
Dan is a novice birder and author of Awbury’s 2022 “Year of Birds” series, 2018 series on Pollinators, “From Wasps to Wind” and 2019’s series on natural fibers. (He is also a former Awbury Arboretum intern.)
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