Eastern redbud flower

Eastern redbud

Pictured above: Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) by Eleanor Dietrich. Click on terms for botanical definitions. View post as a PDF.

Eastern redbud is a deciduous perennial large shrub to small tree. It occurs naturally in mesic hardwood hammocks and typically blooms in March, at which time the entire crown of the tree will become covered in deep pink blooms. Its leaves provide food for many caterpillars, including the Io moth. Flowers depend on long-tongued bees for pollination. The plant is browsed by white-tailed deer, and seeds are eaten by bobwhites and other birds.

Eastern redbud’s irregular flowers are pink to magenta and born in clusters of four to eight within leaf axils and along branches and trunks. Flower buds are small, dark red to reddish-brown, and appear in winter. They bloom in profusion before new leaves emerge. Young leaves are yellowish-green and emerge folded along the midrib. As they mature, they unfurl and turn a dull green. They are paper-thin and cordate to orbicular with entire margins and a pointed apex. In the fall, they may turn bright yellow. Leaf arrangement is alternate. The trunk is often twisted and covered in gray to reddish-brown bark. Branches are thin and may zigzag as they grow. Fruits are flattened pods that contain 10 or more seeds.

Both the flowers and seeds are edible to humans; flowers can be eaten raw or boiled and seeds may be roasted.

Io moth caterpillars on redbud leaves
Io moth (Automeris io) caterpillars on redbud leaves. Photo by Gardening Solutions (Creative Commons license)

Family: Fabaceae (Legume, pea or bean family)
Native range: Panhandle; north and west central peninsula
To see where natural populations of redbud have been vouchered, visit www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu.
Hardiness: 8A–9B
Soil: Well-drained neutral to mildly acidic soil; can tolerate occasional periods of brief flooding
Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Growth habit: 20–30’ tall; crown 15’+ spread
Propagation: Seed
Garden tips: Redbud is a relatively fast-growing flowering tree. Plant it with flowering dogwood for a beautiful, colorful spring display. It is susceptible to canker, so diseased branches should be pruned as soon as they are noticed. For more information, read the UF/IFAS publication on Eastern redbud.

Redbud plants are available from nurseries that specialize in Florida native plants. Visitwww.plantrealflorida.org to find a nursery in your area.