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In April and May, many neighborhoods are brightened by the purplish-pink flowers lining the dark branches of redbuds before their leaves open. This Chicago native plant, evolved in the understory and along wood edges of forests. It works especially well among evergreens that contrast with its color and shelter it from intense sunlight. This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.

  • Family (English) Pea
  • Family (botanic) Fabaceae (formerly Leguminosae)
  • Planting site Residential and parks
  • Tree or plant type Tree
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Small tree (15-25 feet), Medium tree (25-40 feet)
  • Mature height 20-30 feet
  • Mature width 25-35 feet
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 4, Zone 5 (Chicago), Zone 6, Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9
  • Soil preference Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, Clay soil
  • Season of interest mid spring, late spring, early fall, mid fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Pink, Purple
  • Shape or form Irregular, Multi-stemmed, Round
  • Growth rate Moderate
  • Transplants well No
  • Planting considerations Messy fruit/plant parts
  • Has cultivars Yes

Size & Form:

Redbud is a small tree, often multi-stemmed, reaching 20 to 25 feet high and wide.

Native geographic location and habitat: 

C-Value: 10.  Native to most of the Central and Eastern United States.  Commonly found in wooded areas.

Bark color and texture: 

Brown with an inner orange-red coloration.  Older bark sheds to reveal red inner bark.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, texture, and color: 

The simple, alternate leaves are 3 to 5 inches long and often wider than they are long.  They are heart-shaped with an entire margin. Leaves are dark green changing to a clear yellow; fall color sometimes yellow green.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size: 

Flowers are rose-pink to magenta;  small clusters of pea-like blossoms appear along branches and twigs in early May.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions: 

The fruit is a 2 to 3 inch long legume (pea-pod). They turn from reddish green to brown and persist into the winter.

 

Plant care:

Redbud is best planted in part shade in the spring.  In full sun, provide supplemental water in dry periods. Buy from a local or regional source to ensure hardiness.  Plants benefit with a 3 to 4 inch layer of organic mulch to protect the tree’s shallow root system.  Relatively short-lived with a 20 to 25 year life span.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances: 

Suffers in full sun or extreme summer heat.  Susceptible to borers, cankers and verticillium wilt.  Tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

These plants are cultivars of a species that is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. Cultivars are plants produced in cultivation by selective breeding or via vegetative propagation from wild plants identified to have desirable traits.

Ace of Hearts redbud  (Cercis canadensis ‘Ace of Hearts’);

12 to 15 feet high and wide and  vase-shaped.  This is a dwarf redbud.

Appalachian Red redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Appalachian Red’):

A shorter, 20 feet high by 25 feet wide spreading redbud with bright pink flowers and magenta colored buds.

Forest Pansy redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’)

20 to 25 feet high and 20 feet wide.  This is an upright form, with new leaf growth reddish-purple and gradually maturing to a more muted purple. In hot summers it turns more purplish-green.  Flowers tend to be darker and more purplish than the species.

Joy’s Pride™ redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Morton’):

20 to 25 feet high and 15 feet wide.  This cultivar has deep lavender pea-like flowers followed by dark purple, persistent seed pods. A Chicagoland Grows™ introduction.

Lavender Twist® redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Covey’):

  4 to 5 feet high and 6 to 8 feet wide with a weeping form.

MN Strain redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘MN Strain‘): 

A very cold hardy selection from Minnesota.

White redbud (Cercis canadensis f. alba):

A white flowering form of redbud. Grows 25 to 30 feet high and 20 feet wide with a rounded habit.

 

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