Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Eastern redbud: A tree I love

Cercis canadensis, a native ornamental tree

Redbuds and dogwoodRedbuds and dogwood along the roadside,northern Christian County, KY

I love driving along the backroads of Christian County this time of year and seeing the redbuds and dogwoods in bloom. The dogwood above is just beginning to bloom. From my observation over the last 15 years, I would say that we have many wild redbuds and some dogwoods. The redbuds do well along the edges of woods because they like full sun or partial shade.

In the May 20, 1896, edition of Garden and Forest, Professor Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927) wrote, "The Redbuds, as usual, opened with the flowering Dogwoods, and it cannot be too often said what a fine forest border or background to a shrubbery these two trees make at this season." This is still true! They are especially beautiful against evergreens.

I ordered ten ornamental trees from Arbor Day about a dozen years ago. I don't remember all of the trees that were included, but the ones that survived were 3 redbuds and 2 Washington hawthornes. (All the trees were tiny bareroot sticks, and I didn't baby them much.)

I had read that redbuds were understory trees so I planted a couple of them under a big maple tree. I guess I was thinking I'd be able to see their blooms as I came and went through the kitchen door.

Truly it is a miracle that they survived at all in the dense shade of that big water-sucking maple. One of them has never yet bloomed. Both are growing very slowly and they're contorting themselves, growing sideways to the light. This little story falls under the category of really dumb tree mistakes.

I planted the third tree outside the maple's canopy where it gets good sunshine for at least half the day, and it's amazing how much better it has done than the other two. It began blooming several years ago, and it's at least twice as tall -- about 10 or 12 feet. It blooms nicely.

The seeds of the redbud aren't an important food for wildlife. In fact, Hightshoe classifies redbuds as having very low wildlife value. The tree is slow growing, and it's short lived (50 to 75 years.) It's also prone to weather damage, though it's not bothered much by insects or diseases.

Because it's a beautiful tree, I forgive it for having these faults. I love redbuds in spring with their lavender blossoms blooming close against dark, bare branches. I love their heart-shaped leaves in summer. I love their yellow leaves in autumn. And even in winter, the tree is a pleasant sight, usually with several trunks and branches clustered at the top of each.

Redbud flowersRedbud flowers

A good blog article about Eastern redbud: "Texas Redbuds"

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927)

Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

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