March 23, 2011


I’ve been debating which tree to start with, and then the answer came to me quite suddenly.  Less than two weeks ago, the world where I live was still stuck in the greys of winter, but then it suddenly began to explode with the colors of spring.  In my area, the eruption of color begins with the Bradford Pear (definitely a tree worth addressing later) followed by forsythia, daffodils, crabapple and dogwood.

They are all welcome harbingers of spring, but absolutely nothing compares with the shocking vibrancy of the Redbud tree (Cercis canadensis).  Perhaps it is simply that it is the state tree of my home state of Oklahoma that warms the cockles of my heart. 

It abounds in so much of the surrounding manmade landscape because of its beautiful spring showing, but it offers multi-seasonal interest as well:  1) The leaves are nearly perfectly heart shaped. 


2) The bark is fairly smooth with a slight fishnet appearance on the young tree and branches, developing into small flat scales as the tree matures and its diameter increases.  If the scales are disturbed or removed, the underbark is a distinctive reddish-brown. 

3) The Redbud also bears a seedpod through much of the winter, which resembles a flattened pea-pod and is often borne in clusters. 

Raised in “captivity,” these cultivated Redbuds are often asked to survive out in the open, far away from their preferred place in the understory, protected by the strong Oak or stately Ash.  Subject to the strong Oklahoma winds, these contorted single or multi-stemmed trees take on an almost bonsai quality.

The redbud also abounds in the native landscape and pierces the darkness of the otherwise leafless forest, beckoning hikers to wander the understory.  They are so prevalent in nature that it is said that they were once used as a delineator of USDA hardiness zones.  They say that you can tell which zone that you are in based on when your redbuds begin blooming.  I personally associate the arrival of its blossoms with the arrival of Easter.  While the Dogwood is reportedly most intimately associated with the actual crucifixion, one of the nicknames of the Redbud is the “Judas Tree” as some people believe that Judas Iscariot hanged himself after his betrayal from a related tree Cercis siliquastrum. 

Most of us would never consider Redbud as a viable source of wood.  I’ve lived around them my entire life and have never found a piece in the firewood pile.  You certainly won’t find it in a commercial lumberyard.  Large diameter Rebuds are not very common, although the National Register of Big Trees reports a tree in Jackson, MO that stands 39 feet tall with a circumference of 132 inches (a little math tells me that that is 42 inches in diameter).  Wow!  That may call for a road trip!

I intend to discuss each subject species over several posts, primarily to allow discoveries of information along the way.  This includes information tendered by my readers.  If you have personal experience, please feel free to add to this or any discussion in the comments section.

Next time, we will get into a discussion about the wood from the beautiful Redbud.

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