Natural Highlights: Redbud Trees


The Eastern Redbud Tree (Cercis canadensis) is more than a beautiful harbinger of spring with pink-lavender pea-shaped blossoms covering its branches in March and April, cherished in both our backyards and natural landscapes. This small tree is also a host plant for the Henry's Elfin Butterfly and the Io Moth. Its flowers provide nectar for many pollinators and occasional food for hungry squirrels, and several animals nibble on the seeds and seed pods.  Native Americans consumed both flowers and young seed pods, and various parts of the tree have been used medicinally to treat dysentery, fever, and other ailments.  Redbud flowers can apparently be pickled in vinegar or fried, and young leaves and young seed pods can also be eaten. 

Redbuds are small trees, seldom growing more than 30 feet in height.  They are short-lived, too, likely to survive no longer than about 20 years, and there are a number of diseases and parasites than can infect them, especially fungal canker disease and verticillium wilt.  Members of the legume family, redbuds are related to black and honey locust trees, the Kentucky coffeetree, and the yellowwood tree. It is unclear whether or not redbud roots can fix nitrogen as can the peas, beans, and clover in the same family; some sources say yes and others say no.  Nitrogen fixation is actually done by bacteria within nodules on the roots of many legumes, but not all of them.

 For more information on Eastern Redbuds, please refer to the links below:

Eastern Redbud Fact Sheet (NRCS)

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Edible Plants: Redbud (Video) 

    Henry's Elfin caterpillars; coloration is quite variable.

Posted by Cathy Justis at 9:39 PM