Long before Oklahoma’s mighty oaks show a little green, along creek beds and in the dappled shade of larger trees, a purple haze breaks through the winter gray. Cercis canadensis var. texensis ‘Oklahoma,’ commonly known as Oklahoma redbuds, are one of our first signs that winter is waning. The common name for redbuds without the ‘Oklahoma’ designation is Eastern redbuds. They are also called Texas redbuds, hence the texensis in their botanical name. The Eastern redbud is the state tree of Oklahoma. I can’t imagine a prettier tree especially in spring. Plus, it has heart-shaped leaves!
Can you imagine how happy the settlers and American Indians were when they first saw the purple blooms in early spring? Oklahoma winters can be very harsh. Redbuds are such a cheerful symbol of new life.
I rejoice to see the redbuds every year. For a couple of weeks before other trees push forth new leaves, my world is purple and gray. I find it amusing that the botanical name for the ‘Oklahoma’ redbud is texensis. It means that this variety of redbud was first discovered in Texas and named for that state. These small trees dot most of both states so I guess it’s proper that we have both state names in this selection’s official name. Botanical names are a lot like official AKC dog registrations. They’re all proper, but no one walks around calling redbuds Cercis canadensis. See, there’s Canada in the name too. What a mouthful for such a small tree.
I’m often asked how to grow redbuds. Many people, seeing them in bloom at the nurseries in early spring, bring home a small tree and plunk it down into clay soil in full sun. Then they wonder why the poor tree never prospers. Many soon die. Those dry, desiccating prairie winds are hard on trees in our landscapes, especially those that like a little shade. Yes, you’ll see some redbuds hanging in there in full sun, but they may be planted in sandy soil, and I can almost promise you they are watered with an irrigation system. My one hybrid redbud is.
Redbuds’ preferred habitat is in sandier soil as an understory tree. They pop up along creeks and other waterways. In fact, my pond has several, and our oak woods have them too. I’ve only bought one redbud over the years, The Rising Sun™, but I think I’d like one of the red-leaved varieties like ‘Forest Pansy.’ I think I’ll go buy one. I’ve just never needed to invest in them much because I have so many native redbuds on my property. ‘Ruby Falls’ is a weeping hybrid with red foliage. In my garden, native redbuds are very resistant to insects, but redbud leaffolders love to eat The Rising Sun™. Even though the natives are attacked by several insects including redbud leaffolders, like so many native plants, they seem to shrug them off.
According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, one of my favorite sources, redbuds are: “easily grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Plants perform best in moderately fertile soils with regular and consistent moisture. Avoid wet or poorly drained soils. Since this tree does not transplant well, it should be planted when young and left undisturbed.”
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center lists redbuds as of special value to native bees including bumblebees. Redbuds provide nesting material for native bees. You can grow your own redbuds from seeds gathered in the fall. Cuttings do not take well, but you can look for seedlings in early spring around existing trees and transplant these.
If you’d like to learn more information about redbuds and see more selections and hybrids, Southern Living has a good article on them.
Wildflower Wednesday is hosted by Gail at Clay and Limestone because she wants to educate all of us on the beauty and importance of our native plants. Head on over to see who else is participating this month. I’ve learned so much from Gail over the last eight years, and I know you’ll love her blog too.
One more thing, if you’d like to see daily photos from my garden and travels, follow me on Instagram. I usually share at least one photo per day, and sometimes two of whatever catches my fancy.