Eastern redbud is a tough native tree that can stand up to a wide range of planting conditions. It’s also gorgeous right now, covered head to toe with bright magenta blooms that light up the landscape.
(photo by Wendy VanDyk Evans, www.forestryimages.org)
In recognition of its many great qualities, Eastern redbud has been chosen as the 2010 Urban Tree of the Year by the Society of Municipal Arborists, which has about 1,500 urban forestry professionals worldwide. This very adaptable redbud edged out live oak, dawn redwood and Princeton elm.
Tree climber and pruner Mathew Grailich of the New York City Parks and Recreation Department made the nomination. “In New York City, Eastern redbud has, over the years, gained favor within the NYC Parks Department as a specimen that is planted throughout all five boroughs,” he wrote. “Redbud occupies an important niche under overhead utility lines and in tree pits where wide sidewalks allow it room to spread.”
Sterile cultivars such as ‘Flame’ and ‘Forest Pansy’ eliminate homeowners’ worries about being overrun with volunteer seedlings, Grailich says.
(Carl Dennis, forestryimages.org)
Known botanically as Cercis canadensis, Eastern redbud is generally a well-behaved tree that will top out at 20 to 30 feet tall and 10 to 20 feet wide. You can prune it regularly.
“This is one of my favorite small trees, and no garden should be without at least a few,” writes William Cullina in his excellent book, “Native Trees, Shrubs and Vines (New England Wild Flower Society/Houghton Mifflin, 2002).
(Paul Wray, forestryimages.org)
Mature trees have brown exfoliating bark that adds interest in winter. The shiny heart-shaped leaves have a purplish tinge in spring and then turn a lovely shade of yellow in the fall.
Redbuds prefer full sun but will tolerate a fair amount of shade. Like dogwoods and Japanese maples, they make good understory trees at the edge of woods. Except for really wet, boggy conditions, redbuds will grow in just about any soil.
Whether it’s as a delightful harbinger of spring right close to your house or perhaps out by the street where it’s regularly doused with salt and sand, Eastern redbud sounds like a winner indeed.