Everyone goes on and on about the flowering dogwood, Cornus florida. There are dogwood festivals and dogwood streets and dogwood subdivisions. Dogwood. Dogwood. Dogwood. Whatever. The flowering tree I think of as THE spring flowering tree is dogwood’s less lauded neighbor, Cercis canadensis – redbud. If you want a glorious spectacle to enjoy take a drive south from Indy this time of year. Roadsides everywhere are brightened by the deep lavender-pink blooms of this native tree. My usual path is south on I-65 then west on I-64 to the old homeplace. But I’m certain State Road 37 down through Bedford would be gorgeous. I-74 to Cincinnati should be good as well. The redbuds seed into the open cuts made into forests when these roads are constructed and just keep spreading. When one gets cut down it quickly resprouts and in a few years is blooming again.
I’ve heard people complain about redbuds because they can get a canker that kills bits or all of a tree. They nearly always resprout and grow back into a lovely shaped plant again in short order so I don’t see the problem. The redbud is so much less fussy than the very nearly worshiped flowering dogwood.
Heaviest bloom does come in full sun but partial or even full shade is tolerated. I’ve seen them growing in the cut stone along an interstate. I’ve seen them growing in the yellow clay of a southern Indiana cow pasture. And everywhere in between. Their naturally beautiful form makes them ideal trees for year round interest. Nice grey bark in winter is followed by the spectacular flowering. Deep green heart-shaped leaves deliver great texture through summer and come fall the lovely yellow foliage is one last reminder of how wonderful this tree is.
Redbuds are usually a good bright lavender-pink. I admit the usual color is not my favorite normally. But somehow it is different when the color is coming from the redbuds. Heavens though, do not plant them near anything with gold flowers. I don’t even like some of the different colored cultivars planted together let alone their shades of lavender, pink and “red’ with forsythia and the like.
Here’s a little collection of the different colors. You can see these Saturday and Sunday in the Deer Zink Events Pavillion at the Indianapolis Garden Club of America Show – Les Belles Fleurs.
White was an early discovery. Also found have been darker lavender, true pink, and “red” (very deep pink). “Double-flowered” forms exist as well. Breeders are working hard on purple and true red.
Foliage is not always green either. The dark purple ‘Forest Pansy’ has been around for decades despite only becoming truly available very recently. It has now been used in hybrids to create new varieties with glossier leaves and better color. ‘Forest Pansy’ loses a good deal of its deep burgundy color in summer, especially if not in full sun. A couple more selections for better color are ‘Merlot’ and ‘Burgundy Hearts’.
Multiple white variegated cultivars are now available as well. ‘Silver Cloud’ was the first. ‘Alley Cat’ appears to be an excellent new cultivar. We are waiting for the burgundy and white variegated plants to be produced. It will happen. I just know it will. With a bit of pink ideally.
A couple of my favorites have chartreuse/yellow foliage. ‘Hearts of Gold’ and The Rising Sun™ (‘JN2’) are both very strong growers. ‘The Rising Sun’ foliage starts orange-ish then goes to yellow then lime, often all three on the tree at one time. Both have traditional redbud flowers. Wish they were cobalt blue but alas, not to be.
Several weeping redbuds are available. It all started with one called Lavender Twist™ (‘Covey’). ‘Traveler’ is also readily available now. These plants and others have been used in breeding programs to produce variegated and purple leaf weeping cultivars. ‘Whitewater’ has green and white variegated foliage while ‘Ruby Falls’ has deep burgundy foliage. ‘Pennsylvania Pride Pink Heartbreaker’ (‘Pink Heartbreaker’) has green leaves but is more upright growing by maintaining a central leader – kinda, sort of.
Some smaller growing forms are also out there, like ‘Little Woody’ and ‘Ace of Hearts’.
So as you can see the possibilities with this tree are pretty damn amazing. We have 10 recognized cultivars plus the straight species and a selection from our old tree by the Garden for Everyone growing in our gardens. The tree in GFE has always been a very cauliflowery plant. Cauliflowery refers to the flower clusters that form on the trunk and larger branches of redbuds. Here’s an example from ‘Forest Pansy’.
To be honest it will take time to see how well this is expressed in the grafted children. Though I thought some were showing this already in just a few years. Sometimes it is hard to say if this trait is a factor of genetics, age, stress, or all of the above plus more.
Here are a few photos of some of our trees to whet your appetites. Thanks to Chad for the images. You can stroll the gardens this weekend to see them all and visit Les Belle Fleurs too.
And now some close-ups to help emphasize color differences. These differences are most evident in the bud stages.
Filed under: Horticulture