March 26, 2004 at 9:38 a.m.

Eastern Redbud

Eastern Redbud
Eastern Redbud

Soon gardeners will be flocking to nurseries and garden centers looking for things to plant. I am always trying to remember that beautiful spring blooming tree that I saw somewhere. Shirley Mah Kooyman is a botanist and Adult Education Manager. She wrote an article about the Eastern Redbud, and now I remember the tree I was thinking about.

The Redbud is also know as Eastern Redbud and Judas tree. The latter common name comes from the legend that Judas hanged himself on a redbud tree after he betrayed Christ.

The genus Cercis belongs to the pea family with seven species in North America, Southern Europe, and to Japan. Only Cercis Canadensis is hardy in Minnesota, which is north of its native range. This species has been cultivated since 1641; the generic name is from the ancient Greek, kerkis.

Cercis Canadensis is a small tree (20-30 feet tall) that grows best in partial shade. Its small, rosy-pink, pea-like flowers bloom in late April to early May. This is long before the leaves have emerged, making it one of the few early-blooming trees in Minnesota. Its broad crown gives it an unusual appearance that adds interest and beauty. The flowers are pollinated by bees, making the tree a valuable nectar source for honey production. The flower develops into flat pea pods that are green in summer and change to brown in the fall. The brown pods may persist through winter, giving the tree additional interest.

Aside from being a great ornamental tree with gorgeous flowers, the flower buds and young fruit pods are edible raw, pickled, fried, or cooked. Certain native American tribes used extracts from the inner bark and roots for colds and fever, and used the stems for basketry.

The tree doesn’t do well in wet soils, but will tolerate some soil compaction. It is a deciduous tree with a trunk divided close to the ground. Although the flower of this tree is noted for its beauty, the bark is not. The older bark is brownish black or black with scaly appearance.

In the arboretum’s early years, seedlings from a single redbud tree growing at the Horticultural Research Center were tested on the arboretum grounds. After several years, Dr. Leon Snyder and his staff were convinced that the seedlings were as hardy as their parents. The parent tree has since died, but the seedlings continue to produce seeds that supply northern gardeners with hardy redbuds.

Be aware that not all redbuds are hardy for Minnesota. It is recommended that you buy locally and not by mail order. Look for a plant label that says it is University of Minnesota seed source, Minnesota strain, or Northern strain. Again, the only one for our area is the genus Cercis Canadensis.

Don’t let anyone talk you into just any species of redbud.

Forms are still available to preorder bare root strawberry, raspberry, blueberry and grape plants. Many of these are cultivars developed at the University of Minnesota and used by commercial growers, but hard to find for home use. You can view the plant order form on the web at: http://www.extension.umn.edu/coun ty/Chisago. Click on “fruit plant order form” in the Hot Topics box.

A note to those who were disappointed that we were sold out of raspberry plants––we have been able to order some more! You can call the Master Gardener voice mail at 651-237-3080 to add on to your order.

Master Gardeners will be at the Lindstrom Home and Garden Show March 27. In addition to taking orders for the bare root plants, they will be selling native plants and seeds for native and heirloom plants. They will also be giving demonstrations in the high school’s greenhouse.


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