Every Blooming Thing: Redbud, a plant for all seasons

Redbud’s glorious color stands out against the blue of the bright spring sky.  


What a wonderful gift my husband and I received. About 10 years ago, just as we began to landscape our yard, we happened to notice a scraggly bush. We recognized its leaves as being those of a redbud. Since we both were enamored with the redbud, we worked around it. For the next few years we gave it no special care. Apparently redbuds thrive on neglect since it not only grew but it flourished.

This year our redbud presented us with a magnificent floral display. Most years we who live in the valley are happy to get one week of its wonderful adornment. This year, however, our redbud has regaled us with color for four weeks and counting. 

My mom loved redbud, so every year, as far back as I can remember, we would take a ride up to the foothills and mom would admire the redbud in all its glory. She would certainly have been delighted with 2020’s colorful show.

The Western Redbud (Cercis occidentalis) is native to California and, therefore, does very well in zones 8 and 9.  Once established, it requires little water and needs pruning only to remove dead branches. 

Redbud is described as being a multi-trunked tree or a large shrub. I was happy to read this information since, even though the redbud is generally referred to as a tree, to me it has always seemed more like a shrub. Although redbud is not fussy about soil pH, it does prefer well-drained soil.

Redbud is a plant for all seasons. In early spring, magenta flowers and buds cover the previously bare branches.  These are replaced with green heart shaped leaves which add a new dimension to the summer landscape.  Autumn leaves of yellow warn of the impending approach of winter, and as the leaves drop you will notice flat seed pods on the otherwise stark branches.

The Western Redbud thrives in full or partial sun even in our hot valley and grows to be 12 to 20 feet in height. It is just about as wide as it is tall and does not like temperatures below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. I must also point out that not all redbuds are magenta. There is also a white variety sold under the name, Alba.  

Would you believe that Redbud is in the pea family? This is evidenced by the pods which can be picked in the autumn and eaten either raw or cooked. Not only are the pods edible, but the flower buds can also be eaten. As soon as I learned this bit of information, I ran out and munched a handful of these buds, which are a good source of vitamin C. They tasted very fresh but were not very flavorful. The buds would certainly add color and interest to an early spring salad. I read that the buds can be preserved in vinegar and used as a replacement for capers. I probably won’t try this out.

I also learned that there is a member of the redbud family that is called the Judas tree. It was given this name because, supposedly, this was the tree from which Judas Iscariot hanged himself.

If you desire a tree/shrub that adds interest to your landscape during all four seasons, is native to our area, and demands very little care then the redbud is for you. The redbud in my yard is a volunteer and somehow it was planted in the perfect spot. Maybe a local bird will present you with such a wonderful gift.

The Red Bluff Garden Club is affiliated with the Cascade District Garden Club; California Garden Clubs, Inc; Pacific Region Garden Clubs and Natural Garden Clubs Inc. 


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