Cercis canadensis

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Cercis canadensis
Eastern redbud near Cincinnati, Ohio
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Fabales
Family: Fabaceae
Genus: Cercis
C. canadensis
Binomial name
Cercis canadensis
Cercis canadensis range map 2.png
Natural range of the eastern redbud

Cercis canadensis, the eastern redbud, is a large deciduous shrub or small tree, native to eastern North America from southern Michigan south to central Mexico, west to New Mexico. Species thrive as far west as California and as far north as southern Ontario, roughly corresponding to USDA hardiness zone 5b.[2] It is the state tree of Oklahoma.


The eastern redbud typically grows to 6–9 m (20–30 ft) tall with an 8–10 m (26–33 ft) spread. It generally has a short, often twisted trunk and spreading branches. A 10-year-old tree will generally be around 5 m (16 ft) tall. The bark is dark in color, smooth, later scaly with ridges somewhat apparent, sometimes with maroon patches. The twigs are slender and zigzag, nearly black in color, spotted with lighter lenticels. The winter buds are tiny, rounded and dark red to chestnut in color. The leaves are alternate, simple, and heart shaped with an entire margin, 7–12 cm (3–4.5 in) long and wide, thin and papery, and may be slightly hairy below.

The flowers are showy, light to dark magenta pink in color, 1.5 cm (12 in) long, appearing in clusters from spring to early summer, on bare stems before the leaves, sometimes on the trunk itself. There are cultivars with white flowers. The flowers are pollinated by long-tongued bees such as blueberry bees and carpenter bees. Short-tongued bees cannot reach the nectaries. The fruit are flattened, dry, brown, pea-like pods, 5–10 cm (2–4 in) long that contain flat, elliptical, brown seeds 6 mm (14 in) long, maturing in August to October.

Detail of buds
Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy' leaves in July.
Carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica) on redbud flowers.
  • Bark: Red brown, with deep fissures and scaly surface. Branchlets at first lustrous brown, later become darker.
  • Wood: Dark reddish brown; heavy, hard, coarse-grained, not strong. Sp. gr., 0.6363; weight of cu. ft. 39.65 lbs.
  • Winter buds: Chestnut brown, obtuse, one-eighth inch long.
  • Cotyledons oval, flat
  • Leaves: Alternate, simple, heart-shaped or broadly ovate, two to five inches long, five to seven-nerved, cordate or truncate at the base, entire, acute. They come out of the bud folded along the line of the midrib, tawny green; when they are full grown they become smooth, dark green above, paler beneath. In autumn they turn bright clear yellow. Petioles slender, terete, enlarged at the base. Stipules caducous.
  • Flowers: April, May, before and with the leaves, papilionaceous. Perfect, rose color, borne four to eight together, in fascicles which appear at the axils of the leaves or along the branch and sometimes on the trunk itself.
  • Calyx: Dark red, campanulate, oblique, five-toothed, imbricate in bud.
  • Corolla: Papilionaceous, petals five, nearly equal, pink or rose color, upper petal the smallest, enclosed in the bud by the wings, and encircled by the broader keel petals.
  • Stamens: Ten, inserted in two rows on a thin disk, free, the inner row rather shorter than the others.
  • Pistil: Ovary superior, inserted obliquely in the bottom of the calyx tube, stipitate; style fleshy, incurved, tipped with an obtuse stigma.
  • Fruit: Legume, slightly stipitate, unequally oblong, acute at each end. Compressed, tipped with the remnants of the style, straight on upper and curved on the lower edge. Two and a half to three inches long, rose color, full grown by midsummer, falls in early winter. Seeds ten to twelve, chestnut brown, one-fourth of an inch long.

Ecological benefits[edit]

The leaves are eaten by the caterpillars of some Lepidoptera—for example, Henry's elfin, the redbud leaffolder, the red-humped caterpillar (which can cause extensive defoliation in late summer but generally does no lasting harm to a healthy tree),[3] the fall webworm (also a late-season defoliator),[2] the white flannel moth, the American dagger moth, the grape leaffolder, and the Io moth.


Cercis canadensis is grown in parks and gardens, with several cultivars being available. The cultivars 'Forest Pansy'[4] and 'Ruby Falls'[5] have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit (confirmed 2017).[6] Both are cultivated for their showy purple leaves, which turn brilliant shades of red and orange in the fall (autumn). 'Ruby Falls' is a weeping form.

In the wild, eastern redbud is a frequent native understory tree in mixed forests and hedgerows. It is also much planted as a landscape ornamental plant.

In the United States, this tree is difficult to grow farther west into arid areas west of western Kansas and Colorado, as there is not enough rain. There has been success growing the tree in Columbus, Wisconsin, whose cultivar has become known as the "Columbus strain" and is a seed source for nurseries. Seeds can be made to germinate by first dipping in boiled (99 °C) water for one minute and then sowing in a pot (do not boil the seeds).[7]


Eastern redbud blossoms

The flowers can be eaten fresh or fried.[8]

In some parts of southern Appalachia, green twigs from the eastern redbud are used as seasoning for wild game such as venison and opossum. Because of this, in these mountain areas the eastern redbud is sometimes known as the spicewood tree.[citation needed]

Native Americans consumed redbud flowers raw or boiled, and ate roasted seeds. Analysis of nutritional components in edible parts of eastern redbud reported that the flower extract contains anthocyanins, green developing seeds contained proanthocyanidin, and linolenic, α-linolenic, oleic and palmitic acids are present in seeds.[9]


  1. ^ IUCN SSC Global Tree Specialist Group.; Botanic Gardens Conservation International; et al. (BGCI) (2020). "Cercis canadensis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2020: e.T33892A155693644. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-1.RLTS.T33892A155693644.en. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  2. ^ a b Gilman, Edward F.; Watson, Dennis G. (November 1993). "Cercis canadensis 'Flame': 'Flame' Eastern Redbud" (PDF). Environmental Horticulture Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Retrieved 30 August 2020.
  3. ^ "Problems With Forest Pansies". Home Guides | SF Gate. Retrieved 2020-09-01.
  4. ^ "RHS Plant Selector Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy'". Apps.rhs.org.uk. Retrieved 2013-06-13.
  5. ^ "RHS Plantfinder - Cercis canadensis 'Ruby Falls'". Royal Horticultural Society. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
  6. ^ "AGM Plants - Ornamental" (PDF). Royal Horticultural Society. July 2017. p. 16. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  7. ^ Keeler, Harriet L. (1900). Our Native Trees and How to Identify Them. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 104–108.
  8. ^ Little, Elbert L. (1994) [1980]. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees: Western Region (Chanticleer Press ed.). Knopf. p. 491. ISBN 0394507614.
  9. ^ Laura J. Hunter, et al. 2006. Analysis of nutritional components in edible parts of eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis L.). 62nd Southwest Regional American Chemical Society Meeting, Houston, Texas.

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