redbud (Cercis canadensis)
Cercis reniformis Engl.
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Confirmed.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name for eastern redbud
is Cercis canadensis L. Texas redbud (Cercis canadensis var. texensis
[Wats] Hopkins) is recognized by some authorities. Others include
Mexican redbud (Cercis canadensis var. mexicana [Rose] Hopkins). A
common opinion among nursery workers is that the two varieties represent
environmentally induced morphologies (i.e. more leathery leaves in more
xeric conditions) and that Cercis canadensis var. texensis and Cercis
canadensis var. mexicana are all Cercis canadensis var. canadensis.
NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Eastern redbud is
a native, deciduous, small tree or shrub. Mature height ranges from 25
to 50 feet (7.6-15.2 m); the smaller figure is probably closer to average.
The crown is flat to rounded. The trunk us usually straight, branching
about 5 to 9 feet (1.5-2 m) above the ground. The 0.5-inch- (1.2-cm)
thick bark becomes scaly on older stems. The root system of eastern
redbud is long and coarse with a relatively small number of fine feeder
roots near the surface. The fruit is a flat, thin-walled legume (pod) 1.5 to
3.9 inches (4-10 cm) long and 0.32 to 0.72 inches (8-18 mm) broad, with
several hard, shiny seeds. The national champion (1976) eastern redbud
from Springfield, Missouri, measured 47 feet tall (14.3 m), 8.17 inches
(20.75 cm) in circumference, and had a crown spread 36 feet (10.9 m) in
diameter. Unlike most other members of the Fabaceae, eastern redbud
does not form root nodules and does not appear to fix nitrogen.
REGENERATION PROCESSES: Eastern redbud reproduces by bird
dispersed seeds. On average, first reproduction occurs when an individual
is about 15 feet tall (4.5 m), although sometimes blooming begins when
trees are 5 to 7 feet (1.5-2.1 m) in height. Pods may be borne by 5-year-
old eastern redbud, with a maximum reproductive age of 75 years. Good
seed crops usually occur in alternate years. The seeds exhibit combined
dormancy: internal dormancy plus a hard, impermeable seedcoat. In
nursery practice, both scarification and cold, moist stratification are
required for germination. Eastern redbud sprouts from the roots or root
crown following topkill. Eastern redbud can be propagated by softwood
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Eastern redbud grows on almost any site
that is not excessively wet, excessively dry, or strongly acidic. Within its
natural range, eastern redbud exhibits a strong preference for, and can be
used as an indicator of, alkaline soils. Eastern redbud occurs in eastern
redcedar communities on calcareous soils. In Virginia, eastern redbud
tends to occur on alkaline soils high in calcium and magnesium. Best growth
of eastern redbud occurs on rich, moist soils, usually in partial shade. It is
usually not considered drought tolerant; however, its ability to tolerate dry
conditions is decreased in full sun. Probst reported that eastern redbud is
less common in oak forests on poor sites than in oak forests on good sites.
The upper elevational limit of eastern redbud is about 2,200 feet (670 m) in
the southeastern portion of its range. In Trans-Pecos Texas, eastern redbud
ranges from 2,300 to 5,000 feet (701-1524 m) in elevation. In Trans-Pecos
Texas, Mexican redbud occurs in brushy arroyos, canyons, and limestone
hillsides. In the Konza Prairie of Kansas, eastern redbud occurs on rocky
breaks in the grassland.
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Eastern redbud is moderately tolerant of
shade and grows well in full sun. Flower and fruit production is best in
full sun, but eastern redbud's tolerance of full sunlight decreases in hot
and dry areas. It has been hypothesized that eastern redbud and similar
midstory trees such as flowering dogwood attain a midstory canopy height
that maximizes interception of sunflecks (transitory periods of full sun
created by gaps in the canopy and the angle of the sun). If this is the case,
eastern redbud requires at least short periods of sunlight for growth.
Eastern redbud apparently establishes in middle seres, forming a midstory
layer, often with flowering dogwood. In North Carolina, eastern redbud
and flowering dogwood developed as a distinct midstory under an oldfield
shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) canopy as the stand approached middle
age (85 years). Although eastern redbud is not usually described as a
pioneer species it often increases in dominance on sites experiencing
disturbance. It is common on cutover or windthrown areas on calcareous
soils. In Indiana, a tornado caused severe windthrow in a sugar maple
(Acer saccharum) -Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra) stand. Prior to the
tornado, eastern redbud was a minor component in the stand. The most
severely damaged portion of the forest was still mostly open 7 years after
the disturbance and was dominated by sugar maple, elms (Ulmus spp.),
Ohio buckeye, and eastern redbud. Eastern redbud, which increased
dramatically in the first years after the tornado, will probably decline in
importance as taller species begin to close the canopy.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Eastern redbud flowers appear before
the leaves from as early as February in the southeastern United States to
May. In the southern part of its range, eastern redbud pods are fully grown
by the end of May and ripen by September or October. The pods split open
in late autumn to winter, sometimes persisting on the tree through the winter.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: The range of eastern redbud extends from
New Jersey and Pennsylvania west to southern Michigan and southeastern
Nebraska; south to eastern Texas; and east to central Florida. Its natural
range appears to exclude the Gulf and Atlantic Coastal Plains. It is extinct
from one locality in extreme southern Ontario. Texas redbud occurs from
southern Oklahoma south to eastern, southern, and Trans-Pecos Texas;
extreme southeastern New Mexico; and northern Mexico. In Mexico, its
range extends from eastern Chihuahua and Coahila east to Tamps and
south to San Luis Potosi and Hidalgo.
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION:
Tree specimens can be found on trails marked in red.
Appalachian Trail/Old Trail
South Ridge/North Ridge
Rolling Meadows/ Lost Mountain
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES: Eastern redbud
occurs in the open or as an understory tree common along the edge of
woods in a variety of habitats. In Kentucky, it occurs on exposed lime-
stone cliffs in eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) communities. It
very commonly occurs with flowering dogwood (Cornus florida).
IMPORTANCE AND USES: Eastern redbud seeds or pods are eaten
by quail, pheasants, other birds including goldfinch, and deer. Birds will
open pods on the tree to get at the seeds. Deer and cattle browse young
Eastern redbud occurs in Ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei) habitat which is
critical to endangered golden-cheeked warblers. What relationship exists
between eastern redbud and golden-cheeked warblers is not completely
understood (the warblers are primarily insectivorous).
Eastern redbud was planted on surface mined sites in Indiana between
1928 and 1975. It is apparently no longer used much for this purpose.
The wood of eastern redbud is heavy, hard, and close-grained, but weak.
It is of no commercial value since the trees are rarely large enough to
provide merchantable timber.
Eastern redbud is a popular ornamental. It is listed among trees useful for
xeriscaping (landscaping for minimal water use). It is sometimes a valuable
source of nectar for honey production. The flowers may be pickled for use
in salads or fried (a common practice in Mexico). An astringent fluid extract
from redbud bark has been used in treating dysentery.
Crooked Run Valley