How to Manage and ID Redbud

cardinals in a flowering eastern redbud tree
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 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 longevity of the tree. Do not allow multiple trunks to grow with tight crotches. Instead, space branches about 6 to 10 inches apart along a 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

Trunk/bark/branches: 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; 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

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 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.