Eastern redbud is a native, perennial, deciduous tree or shrub. The plants may vary in form from dense and round (to 6 m tall) when grown in sun, to an open, taller form (to 12 m tall) when grown in the shade.
The trees produce hundreds of small pink pea flowers in the very early spring, even before other trees have leafed out. The bright magenta-pink to lilac flowers, appear in small clusters, primarily on older stems. The unique, broadly heart-shaped leaves are nearly circular. New leaves are a light green that darken with age and finally turn yellow in the fall. The seeds are contained in a flat, thin pod, which turns from green to brown.
Common name: Redbud
Scientific name: Cercis canadenesis
Family name: Legume Family (Fabaceae)
Attracts: Many birds, including bobwhite quails, eat the seeds. White-tailed deer are among the animals that browse the foliage. Honeybees visit the blossoms. Livestock will browse on Eastern redbud.
Host plant to: Henry’s Elfin butterfly (Callophrys[=Deciduphagus] henrici
Native range: native to the eastern and south-central United States, southward to Texas
Habitat: Eastern redbud occurs in the forest understory in moist rich woods, along the banks of streams, in ravines, on bluffs, in open rocky woods, and abandoned farmlands.
Height: to about 25 feet
Light needed: sun to shade
Hardiness zones: 4 to 9
Bloom period: spring
Bloom color: deep pink or red; yellow leaves in the autumn
The plants require very little maintenance. Eastern redbud has relatively few pests. Stem canker, leaf spots, and verticillium wilt may be a problem. The plants may experience some insect damage from leaf rollers, treehoppers, scales, leafhoppers, aphids, and spider mites, but damage is rarely severe.
Cuttings are difficult to root. Mature plants do not transplant well so buy young plants that are balled-and-burlapped or container grown. Transplant the plants in the spring or fall, in well-drained soils in sun to part shade. Water the plants regularly until established.
Ethnobotanic: The Alabama, Cherokee, Delaware, Kiowa, and Oklahoma were among the Native American tribes that used eastern redbud for various purposes. The bark was made into a tea to treat whooping cough. Taking cold infusions of the roots and inner bark treated fevers and congestion. An infusion of the bark was used to treat vomiting and fever. During winters, the plants were used for firewood. Because it is one of the first plants to flower in the spring, the blossoming branches were brought into the homes to “drive winter out.” Children were “fond of eating the blossoms” of eastern redbud.