Friday, February 24, 2012
Eastern Redbud Shines In The Spring Season
Eastern Redbuds are relatively short-lived tree specimens, rarely lasting over 30 years or so, but they grow fairly fast at 12 to 24 inches per year. Propagation is easiest by seed, which can be collected from the seed pods when they turn brown in the fall. Air dry the pods, and then when completely dry, remove the seeds. Once out of the pod, boil the seed in water for 1 minute to soften the outer coating, and then store in the refrigerator in a bowl of sand for 5 to 8 weeks. Once removed from the refrigerator, plant promptly at about 1/4 inch deep.
Obviously, you can also buy a young specimen at the garden center, in which case you should situate the tree in a part-shade to full sun spot. Redbuds seem to do best when they get full sun in the spring, but will appreciate a little shade from bigger trees during the hottest part of the summer. Dig a hole about 4 times the width of the root ball in a well-drained area, and set the tree inside. Replace about half the excavated soil, and water well to remove any air pockets. Replace the rest of the soil and water deeply, then cover with an inch or two of mulch. Ideal planting times for Redbuds are spring and fall. Summer heat will likely stress the sapling if no shade is provided, especially in hotter summer areas.
Eastern Redbuds form multiple trunks that split off low to the ground as they mature. Growth habit is quite irregular at first, but as the tree matures, it will form an attractive more or less dome shape. The bark is dark gray or black and is smooth when the tree is young, but becomes scaly as the tree grows. Flowers arise all over the stems either just before or along with new leaves. Leaves are strikingly heart-shaped and matte green. The Eastern Redbud is a member of the pea family, and the flowers very much resemble those of garden sweet pea, though unfortunately without the rich scent carried by sweet peas. Bloom duration is 2-3 weeks. The further south, the earlier the bloom. Fall color is an inconsistent yellow, not spectacular, but pleasant enough. Seed pods are oblong and some will fall to the base of the tree, but others stay with the plant through the winter months. The wood is not a strong wood, and may be damaged by ice or heavy snow.
Redbuds are sometimes called the "Judas" tree because Judas, who betrayed Jesus, supposedly hanged himself from the branch of one (a mid east relative of our indigenous Redbud). Legend has it that the tree blushed with shame, and has continued blushing ever since (even though there are white Redbuds in existence). Redbud flowers are edible and taste something like nutty raw green beans. They are high in Vitamin C and make nice salad and pastry garnishes. Young seed pods are also tasty and can be boiled and served with butter. Native Americans used Redbud bark for use in teas as remedies for afflictions such as fever, vomiting, and congestion, and medicines were made for dysentery, diarrhea, and leukemia, but most herbalists don't use it today.
In the landscape, Eastern Redbud shines in early spring when it suddenly bursts into vivid bloom. As an understory tree in the wild, the Redbud is an adaptive little tree that will adjust to a variety of home gardening situations, including under other taller trees, in the middle of flowerbeds, along driveways, or as specimen trees. Though they are not astounding specimens when not in bloom, they are still worthwhile in the home landscape for their multi-trunk form, overall small size, and good-looking heart-shaped foliage.