A superstar in the spring with its dazzling display of flowers the Eastern Redbud shows its love all year with its heart shaped leaves.
The earliest known documentation of the native Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) was by American botanist John Custis in a letter to the English botanist and collector Peter Collinson in 1735.
However, its cousin (Cercis siliquastrum) was recorded much earlier when it was noted in the Bible that Judas Iscariot hung himself from the tree. This is why another common name for the redbud is a Judas-Tree, as Thomas Jefferson wrote in his Notes on the State of Virginia in 1781.
The Eastern redbud is a small deciduous tree that can reach heights of 35 feet. The leaves are broadly heart shaped with a papery texture and a short point. Redbud's bright lilac pink to red pea-like flowers appear in clusters along older branches before the leaves in April or May, and are a welcome herald of spring in many regions. Best used in woodland borders or naturalized areas with sun exposure for best flowering.
George Washington had a fanatic love for the redbud and planted them all over his Mount Vernon estate with concentrations of them being near the Upper Garden and its meandering paths.
The redbud was noted in some of the early history books of Jefferson County with the tree blazing early colors along the creeks and river. However, as industrialization and farming took hold in the county the removal of redbuds, along with dogwood, was promoted “as they hold no use to man” and the trees began to be ripped out and removed with great cavalier. In an article published in the Herald Star on July 21, 1921, entitled “Preserve the Wildflower” the editors of the paper pleaded with the citizens of Jefferson County to protect the redbud.
The tree is a host plant for 24 species of butterflies and moths in the greater Jefferson County area including the dark and majestic Spicebush Swallowtail. The redbud attracts 19 different genera of birds which includes hummingbirds and finches. ■