Redbud versus Redbud

I mentioned previously that my Chinese Redbud (Cercis chinensis) was beginning to open its flowers. It always begins blooming a few weeks ahead of our native Redbud (Cercis canadensis). I especially love the arching branching pattern of the Chinese Redbud. This photo is my attempt to show you what I mean:

Chinese Redbud

If you click on the photo to see the larger version, I think you’ll see how the branches droop and arch. The flowers accentuate the shape of the branches without obscuring them, as the leaves will do soon enough. The branches of one side of this tree are covered with lichens. Lichens don’t hurt the tree, but they do give the gnarled branches a more ancient appearance. This tree was planted about fifteen years ago, and it’s about eight or so feet tall and equally wide. Here’s a closer view of its flowers:

Chinese Redbud Flowers

To my eye, these flowers are just a tad more magenta than the paler pink-lavender flowers of our native Redbud.

When we moved to this property, no native Redbuds grew here. I saw them on adjacent properties, but not here. I concluded that this understory tree was eradicated by the previous owner, along with the Sourwoods and other smaller natives I expected to find growing here. Before I could buy and plant any Redbuds, however, a whole crop of seedlings sprouted in a pile of wood chips left by my arborist. His truck had chips from an earlier customer to which he added the chips from my yard (I always ask him to leave the piles of chips.) The following spring, the seedlings appeared. I assumed that some Redbud bean-like seed pods (they are legumes) had been serendipitously mixed in with the wood chips from my arborist’s previous client.

That was twenty years ago. Here’s the base of the trunk of one of those early volunteers:

Native Redbud Trunk

I love the rough shagginess of the mature trunk. This tree grows near the vegetable garden and is just beginning to open its flowers. Most buds are not fully open, but you can see their color:

Native Redbud Flowers

They’re not really open enough for a decent portrayal. I’ll get a better shot in a week or so. Even from this close-up, you can see that the native Redbud’s branching pattern is much more erect than that of its Chinese cousin.  It’s also a much larger tree at maturity. This tree is about 25 feet tall now — a true piedmont understory constituent.

A key reason my native Redbuds are growing well is their location. Redbuds — like our native Dogwoods that will be blooming soon — occur naturally along forest edges. Adjacent taller canopy trees protect them from hot afternoon sun and cold winter winds, but they get enough sun to bloom well by being along a forest edge (or an open area deeper in a forest).

I always cringe when I see a poor Redbud or Dogwood planted smack in the middle of a suburban lawn without any other trees around it. Even if the homeowner manages to keep such a tree alive in that location, it will never come close to reaching its full potential. Such trees are too exposed there — too prone to root damage, over-fertilization, and shallow watering.

The southeast piedmont region of North America is home to many wonderful native trees and shrubs that will flourish in piedmont homeowners’ yards, if the growing requirements of those plants are met. A little thinking ahead of time will yield great results for decades to come.

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