Wildflower Wednesday: Oklahoma redbuds

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!

Dead redbud with native sumac in the fall.
Dead redbud with native sumac in the fall. Even in death, they are beautiful.

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.

Old redbud half dead and falling over on my property. Redbuds usually live to be about twenty years old. This one is much older.
Old redbud half dead and falling over on my property. Redbuds usually live to be about twenty years old. This one is much older.

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.

These redbuds and sand plums are on the road to my house. The sand plums make a nice understory.
These redbuds and sand plums are on the road to my house. The sand plums make a nice understory.

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.

A closeup view of the foliage from The Rising Sun™ redbud. It deserves two photos I think.
A closeup view of the foliage from The Rising Sun™ redbud. See those little hearts?

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.

Check out that contrast against the blue sky. It's no wonder people fall in love.
Check out that contrast against the blue sky. It’s no wonder people fall in love.

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.

On a neighbor's property, these redbuds were thinned out of the Oklahoma scrub, and they are thriving.
On a neighbor’s property, these redbuds were thinned out of the Oklahoma scrub, and they are thriving.

If you’d like to learn more information about redbuds and see more selections and hybrids, Southern Living has a good article on them.

I like to think redbuds like people too because they often grow along our roads and near our rural homes.
I like to think redbuds like us as much as we like them because they often grow along our roads and near our rural homes.

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.


  1. Les says:

    When I was in retail I always tried to carry a variety of redbuds. I was especially fond of those with burgundy or variegated foliage, but I always kept a few Oklahoma redbuds too. In our climate they were a bit more tolerant of sun, and more tolerant of drought than the typical eastern redbud.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Les, I love the burgundy redbuds. I think they are my favorite. Yes, the ‘Oklahoma’ ones seem to be more drought tolerant. Some even grow in full sun here, but those definitely need extra irrigation of some sort. ~~Dee

  2. Nan says:

    I got one free in an order to the Arbor Day Foundation, and I hope it will grow but I don’t see any buds yet. It might just be zone 3 where we planted it, so fingers crossed but…

  3. I enjoyed your post, Dee. You have a beautiful place! Our first house here in SE Nebraska was on three lots. Someone before us had planted a redbud tree there. Our neighbor across the street was from another country, and I can still hear her calling it a “redbut’ tree. She was a gardener, too, with a front yard full of blooms, some of which she shared with me. I’m thinking the tree died over one of our winters. I’ll have to ask my husband if he remembers.

  4. Jen Y says:

    I love my Redbud trees! My street even has the name Redbud in it. I’ve never bought any because they are almost invasive on my land. I spend a lot of time each spring pulling redbud seedlings out of my flower beds & giving them away.

    We have a beautiful one in full sun in front of our house that we’ve carefully pruned to keep a nice healthy shape. We also have one that my husband yanked out of a block wall. There was enough root that we decided to plant it. It’s in full shade under oak trees & never gets watered through dry seasons but still blooms beautifully every spring.

    Right now my redbuds are humming with bees. The trees seem to move with all the bees hovering around the blooms.

  5. Beautifully written piece, Dee. Your redbuds are amazing. I have one weeping, miniature redbud that I adore, especially for its heart-shaped leaves. P. x

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Oh, thank you Pam. God planted most of my redbuds. I can’t really take credit for them.

  6. This is my favorite tree. We have one in the garden, although ours usually blooms in late April or early May here in Wisconsin. We have many photos of the kids posing with their prom dates under the Redbud blooms. Perfect timing! Ours is probably 25 years old, and it’s showing signs of age. I’m sad to think it will be gone soon. I will plant another one. 🙂 Lovely photos–especially the one of the Redbuds with the Sand Plums.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      That would be exquisite Beth to have prom and graduation photos beneath the redbuds. Too early here, but I think it’s wonderful that this little tree blooms all over the U.S. Those sand plums on that street corner wow me each spring.

  7. We have 4 redbuds on our little lot. 2 are Forest Pansy and 2 are the native. I look forward to their redbuds each spring. I agree that those heart shaped leaves are lovely.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Lisa, I think I’m going to replace my tired old peach tree with a redbud. The peach is on its last legs from borers. ‘Forest Pansy’ would be beautiful there.

  8. One of my favorite trees. They are a delightful reminder of when Michael and I got married~a spring many years ago. Happy WW. xo

    1. Dee Nash says:

      How long Gail? How many years?

  9. Beautiful, thorough, poetic. As always. xoxo

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you sweet Marie.

  10. Redbuds are such great little trees. Thanks for sharing some that have made their way naturally in the country.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you for stopping by. I love that they trail all through the woods here.

  11. Jennifer K. says:

    Planted a few Eastern redbuds last spring. Can’t wait until they grow up and bloom!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Jennifer, they are early blooming trees so I think you’ll get a lot of enjoyment out of them.

  12. Redbuds are one of my favorite trees too! This is a very informative article. The redbuds look great with the sand plums.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thanks Jeanette!

  13. Vickie M. says:

    Love, love, love the redbuds!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Me too Vickie! Such wonderful little trees.

  14. gardenannie says:

    Where can I get a Rising Sun redbud? I have a Forest Pansy. Yours is beautiful.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Annie, I would try your local nursery first. A good nursery will have it as it’s a very popular tree. I also did a quick search for you for online places. https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=the%20rising%20sun%20redbud I found several. Hope you get one.

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