Oklahoma State Tree
Eastern Redbud (common name)
Cercis canadensis (scientific name)
Eastern redbud is a small, perennial tree in the bean family. As a member of the bean family, eastern redbud is also related to honey-locust, Kentucky coffeetree, black locust, and wisteria, as well as other types of redbuds. The bean family is also known as the legume, pea, or pulse family.
This small, sparsely branched tree, also called redbud or Judas-tree, is said to be the species from which Judas Iscariot hanged himself after betraying Christ, but the name may derive from "Judea's tree," after the region in the Middle East where the tree is commonplace.
This tree is common through most of the eastern and plains states, though it does not enter the far north. Oklahoma designated eastern redbud as its official state tree in 1937. A variety of eastern redbud, called Texas redbud (Cercis canadensis var. texana or Cercis texensis), is found in the United States only in Texas and Oklahoma. Some authorities also recognize Mexican redbud (Cercis canadensisvar. mexicana). However, Oklahoma's designation as state tree is not specific to any variety of Cercis canadensis, and many botanists do not recognize the distinction of these western variants. A cultivarCercis Canadensis 'Oklahoma' or Cercis reniformis is called the Oklahoma Redbud. It was developed from plants discovered in the Arbuckle Mountains of Oklahoma. It is distinctive for its glossy and thick, leathery leaves.
Eastern redbud is a small tree or shrub, mature at 15 feet high, reaching 40 feet at most. It is a native, deciduous tree with a flat to rounded crown. Its broad, heart-shaped leaves are typically green, but may be dark reddish or highly glossy in some forms or cultivars. Its flowers are usually bright pink or sometimes deeper rose-colored or white, are small and numerous, are shaped like a pea flower, and emerge directly from the twigs, branches and trunk of trees prior to the leaves in spring. The fruit is like a thin bean pod, turning brown in the fall.
Height: 25-50 ft (7.6-15.2 m)
Diameter: 10-30 ft (3.0-9.1 m)
Bark: 0.5 in (1.2 cm) thick, scaly with age
Fruit: flat, thin-walled legume 1.5-3.9 in (4-10 cm) long and 0.3-0.7 in (8-18 mm) broad, with several hard, shiny seeds
Leaves: 5-9 prominent, radiating veins, reddish-purple or light green, darken then turn yellow with age
This is a short-lived tree, normally living 50 to 80 years.
Eastern redbud occurs in the open or as an understory tree common along the edge of woods in a variety of habitats. It very commonly occurs with flowering dogwood and in the Ashe juniper habitat, which is critical to endangered golden-cheeked warblers.
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE
Eastern redbud seeds or pods are eaten by deer, quail, pheasants, and other birds including goldfinch. Birds will open pods on the tree to get the seeds. Deer and cattle browse young trees. This tree can be used for nesting sites and nesting materials, and it also provides shelter for birds and mammals.
OTHER USES AND VALUES
The wood of eastern redbud is heavy, hard, and close-grained, but weak. It is of no commercial value since the trees are rarely large enough to provide merchantable timber.
Although the tree is of little use as a timber species, it is very important as an ornamental tree. Eastern redbud is cultivated for its bright pink flowers, which open in spring before the tree canopy leafs out. Redbud is entirely leafless when it blooms, and its branches, covered with tiny pink flowers, stand out in the bare forest. It is listed among trees useful for xeriscaping, or landscaping for minimal water use. A white-flowered form occurs naturally, and is also of horticultural interest.
Eastern redbud is sometimes a valuable source of nectar for honey production. The flowers may be pickled for use in salads or fried (a common practice in Mexico). An astringent fluid extract from redbud bark has been used in treating dysentery.
The Alabama, Cherokee, Delaware, Kiowa, and Oklahoma were among the Native American tribes who used eastern redbud for various purposes. The bark was made into a tea to treat whooping cough. Children ate the blossoms. Taking cold infusions of the roots and inner bark treated fevers and congestion. An infusion of the bark was used to treat vomiting and fever. During winter, the plants were used for firewood. Because it is one of the first plants to flower in the spring, the blossoming branches were brought into homes to "drive winter out."
Eastern redbud reproduces by seeds dispersed by birds. On average, first reproduction occurs when a tree is about 15 feet (4.5 m) tall, although sometimes blooming begins earlier. Pods may be borne by five-year-old eastern redbud, with a maximum reproductive age of 75 years.
Eastern redbud sprouts from the roots or root crown following topkill. Eastern redbud can be propagated by softwood cuttings.
Oklahoma's state tree is moderately tolerant of shade and grows well in full sun. It grows on almost any site that is not excessively wet, excessively dry, or strongly acidic. Within its natural range, eastern redbud exhibits a strong preference for, and can be used as an indicator of, alkaline soils.
The range of eastern redbud extends from New Jersey and Pennsylvania west to southern Michigan and southeastern Nebraska, south to eastern Texas, and east to central Florida. Its natural range appears to exclude the Gulf and Atlantic coastal plains.
The upper elevational limit of eastern redbud is about 2,200 feet (670 m) in the southeastern portion of its range. In Trans-Pecos Texas, eastern redbud ranges from 2,300 to 5,000 feet (701-1,524 m) in elevation.
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U.S. Forest Service
U.S. National Arboretum
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Author: World Trade Press