How to Manage and ID Eastern Redbud Trees

Cardinal male feeding female, in a white-flowered Cercis canadensis

Linda Hartong / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

The state tree of Oklahoma, Eastern Redbud is a moderate to rapid-grower when young, reaching a height of 20 to 30 feet. Thirty-year-old specimens are rare but they can reach 35 feet in height, forming a rounded vase. Trees of this size are often found on moist sites. The splendid purple-pink flowers appear all over the tree in spring, just before the leaves emerge. Eastern Redbud has an irregular growth habit when young but forms a graceful flat-topped vase-shape as it gets older.

Specifics

  • Scientific name: Cercis canadensis
  • Pronunciation: SER-sis kan-uh-DEN-sis
  • Common name(s): Eastern Redbud
  • Family: Leguminosae
  • USDA hardiness zones: 4B through 9A
  • Origin: native to North America
  • Availability: generally available in many areas within its hardiness range

Popular Cultivars

Several cultivars of eastern redbud may be seen: forma alba - white flowers, blooms about a week later; ‘Pink Charm’ - flowers pink; ‘Pinkbud’ - flowers pink; ‘Purple Leaf’ - young foliage purple; ‘Silver Cloud’ - leaves variegated with white; ‘Flame’ - more erect branching, flowers double, blooms later, sterile so no seed pods form. ‘Forest Pansy’ is a particularly attractive cultivar with purple-red leaves in the spring, but the color fades to green in the summer in the south.

Management Considerations

Be sure to avoid weak forks by pruning to reduce the size of lateral branches and save those which form a ‘U’-shaped crotch, not a ‘V’. Keep them less than half the diameter of the main trunk to increase the longevity of the tree. Do not allow multiple trunks to grow with tight crotches. Instead, space branches about 6 to 10 inches apart along the main trunk. Eastern redbud is best not used extensively as a street tree due to low disease resistance and short life.

Description

  • Height: 20 to 30 feet
  • Spread: 15 to 25 feet
  • Crown uniformity: irregular outline or silhouette
  • Crown shape: round; vase shape
  • Crown density: moderate
  • Growth rate: fast
  • Texture: coarse

Trunk and Branches

The bark is thin and easily damaged from mechanical impact; droop as the tree grows, and will require pruning for vehicular or pedestrian clearance beneath the canopy. Routinely grown with, or trainable to be grown with, multiple trunks; not particularly showy. The tree wants to grow with several trunks but can be trained to grow with a single trunk; no thorns.

Foliage

  • Leaf arrangement: alternate
  • Leaf type: simple
  • Leaf margin: entire
  • Leaf shape: orbiculate; ovate
  • Leaf venation: banchidodrome; pinnate; palmate; reticulate
  • Leaf type and persistence: deciduous
  • Leaf blade length: 4 to 8 inches; 2 to 4 inches
  • Leaf color: green
  • Fall color: yellow
  • Fall characteristic: showy

Flowers and Fruit

  • Flower color: lavender; pink; purple
  • Flower characteristics: spring-flowering; very showy
  • Fruit shape: pod
  • Fruit length: 1 to 3 inches
  • Fruit covering: dry or hard
  • Fruit color: brown
  • Fruit characteristics: does not attract wildlife; no significant litter problem; persistent on the tree; showy

Culture

  • Light requirement: tree grows in part shade/part sun; tree grows in full sun
  • Soil tolerances: clay; loam; sand; acidic; occasionally wet; alkaline; well-drained
  • Drought tolerance: high
  • Aerosol salt tolerance: none
  • Soil salt tolerance: poor

Redbuds In-Depth

Eastern Redbuds grow well in full sun in the northern part of its range but will benefit from some shade in the southern zones, particularly in the lower Midwest where summers are hot. Best growth occurs in a light, rich, moist soil but eastern redbud adapts well to a variety of soil including sandy or alkaline.

Trees look better when they receive some irrigation in summer dry spells. Its native habitat ranges from stream bank to dry ridge, demonstrating its adaptability. Trees are sold as single or multi-stemmed. Young trees are easiest to transplant and survive best when planted in the spring or fall. Containerized trees can be planted anytime. The beans provide food for some birds. Trees are short-lived but provide a wonderful show in the spring and fall.

Cercis are best propagated by seed. Use ripe seed to plant directly, or, if the seed has been stored, stratification is necessary before sowing in a greenhouse. Cultivars can be propagated by grafting onto seedlings, or by summer cuttings under mist or in a greenhouse.