Eastern Redbud: Spring's Early Pleasing Pastel of Magenta Pink

by DerdriuMarriner

New World native Eastern redbud is one of the first trees to flower in spring.

Cercis canadensis, commonly known as Eastern redbud, is a New World tree that is native to east-central Canada and the United States.

Eastern redbud is one of the first trees to flower in spring.

The pastel beauty of Eastern redbud's blossoms forms a quartet of early spring harbingers with:
• Black cherry (Prunus serotina),
• Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), and
• Forsythia.

the magic of pastel splashes of Eastern redbud

Lake Marmo, Morton Arboretum (West Side), Lisle, Illinois
Lake Marmo, Morton Arboretum (West Side), Lisle, Illinois


Cercis canadensis is commonly known as Eastern redbud. Cercis canadensis is in the family Fabaceae, a family of flowering plants commonly known as the bean family, legume family, pea family, or pulse family. An older family synonym, Leguminosae, recognizes the family’s typical fruit, which are termed legumes or pods.

Eastern redbud is the official tree of the state of Oklahoma. Conservationist Maimee Lee Robinson Browne (March 3, 1881 - June 11, 1963), a transplant born in Pittsburg, northeastern Texas, fell under the spell of her adopted state, especially of its Eastern redbud trees. She led a successful campaign for emblem status for Cercis canadensis as Oklahoma's state tree. On March 30, 1937, Ernest Whitworth Marland (May 8, 1874 – October 3, 1941), Oklahoma's 10th Governor, made the pretty tree's status official by signing Senate Joint Resolution No. 5 during the Sooner State's Sixteenth Legislature (November 24, 1936, to May 11, 1937):

  • "WHEREAS, in the beginning of this great commonwealth, when the sturdy and hardy pioneers thereof trekked across its rolling hills and plains, one of the first sights to greet them spread out in a glorious panorama, was the Redbud tree -- a tree, that as it arose in the spring from the verdant fields, was emblematic of the eternal renewal of all life; a tree that in its beauty renewed the worn spirit and gave hope to the tired heart of a people seeking homes in a new land, and;
  • WHEREAS, it is the will of the Legislature that the adoption of the Redbud tree as the official State Tree of the State of Oklahoma would be small, but fitting tribute, to the part it played in, and the beauty it has lent to, the lives of the people, of this State,
  • Now, therefore, be it resolved by the Senate of the State of Oklahoma and the House of Representatives of the State of Oklahoma:
  • That the Redbud tree be adopted and the same is made the official tree of this State."

On June 14, 1971, under the governorship of David Hall (born October 20, 1930) during the 33rd Legislature (January 5, 1971 to January 2, 1973), Eastern redbud's hallowed status was further consolidated by statutory inclusion in the Oklahoma Forestry Code under Title 2, Article 16:

  • "The redbud shall be adopted and the same be made the official tree of this state."



Described as a large shrub or a small tree, Eastern redbud gloriously blazes in early spring throughout its native habitat in eastern North America.

  • Its native southern extent is in northern Florida, from which point its pleasing pastel hues sweep westwards through Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas, and northwards into the province of Ontario in east central Canada.


U.S.D.A. Hardiness Zones

Classed in U.S.D.A. Hardiness Zones 5 to 9, Cercis canadensis tolerates minimum winter temperatures ranging from -20º to -10º F. (-29º to -23º C.) up to 20º to 30º F. (-7º to -1º C.).


Eastern redbud starting to flower

Cincinnati, southwestern Ohio
Cincinnati, southwestern Ohio

Externals: What Eastern redbud looks like


Eastern redbud flowers are striking (showy) in their pink or magenta clusters of four to eight, profusely arrayed throughout the tree, on old branches, young branches, and even the trunk. Eastern redbuds love to bloom as they produce a plethora of flowers even at a young age.

Flowers emerge ahead of the tree’s foliage.


Cercis canadensis' floral pastel: even a handful of Eastern redbud flowers stand out in the landscape

Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, southeastern Pennsylvania
Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, southeastern Pennsylvania


Eastern redbud fruit unmistakably resembles flattened pea pods. They measure two to three inches (5 to 7.6 centimeters) in length and about 0.5 inches (1.3 centimeters) in width.

As they mature, Eastern redbud fruits change color from green to dark brown.

Pods are populated by four to ten small seeds, which typically are brown in color.


Eastern redbud seeds

Provided by ARS Systematic Botany and Mycology Laboratory, Beltsville, central Maryland
Provided by ARS Systematic Botany and...

Eastern redbud's podlike fruit

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Chaska, southeastern Minnesota
Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Chaska, southeastern Minnesota


Leaf shape is simple, so their endearing heart-shaped outline does not have the indented lobes, for example, of oak leaves. Their width and length tend to range from three to five inches (7.6 to 12.7 centimeters). Five to nine conspicuous veins are palmate (Latin: palmatus “hand-shaped”), meaning that they radiate from one point, the base. Another prominent feature of the leaves is their long, slender petiole (Latin: petiolus “little foot,” diminutive of pes “foot”), the small stalk which attaches the leaf blade (lamina, from Latin for “thin sheet of metal”) to the stem (leaf axil).

Leaf arrangement on the stem, phyllotaxis (Greek: phýllon "leaf” + táxis "arrangement"), is alternate, meaning leaves are attached singly and alternate sides, in a zigzag growth pattern, as they emerge along the stem.

When first budding, leaves are bright green with red tinges. By maturity their color is dark green.

As a deciduous tree, Eastern redbud sheds its leaves seasonally in a process called abscission (Latin: ab “away” + scindere “to cut”). Their autumn color, signalling abscission, is yellow green. Sometimes their autumn foliage takes on a striking, bright yellow color.


Eastern redbud in autumn: yellow-green heart-shaped leaves and browning fruit pods

Newark, northeastern New Jersey
Newark, northeastern New Jersey


Bark generally ranges from red brown to dark brown in color. Older branches present dark brown or grey scaly plates under which orange inner bark is revealed by light exfoliation.

With a maximum height of 20 to 30 feet (6 to 9 meters), Eastern redbud is an understory, a small tree that easily grows in the shade of taller trees below the forest canopy (the topmost area of the forest habitat as delineated by the crowns of the tallest trees).

The leafy, spreading branches of the Eastern redbud trace an outline that is broad with a flat-topped crown. The trunk divides into large branches at a close distance to the ground.

Its branches, spreading outward to a full width of 25 to 35 feet (7.6 to 10.6 meters), often make its width exceed its height.


early spring: closeup of reddish bark of Eastern redbud with budding flowers


Wildlife appeal


Wildlife find Eastern redbud to be edible and browsable.

  • In spring and summer white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) graze on Eastern redbud foliage and twigs.
  • Bark, buds, and seeds are infrequently consumed by squirrels (family Sciuridae).
  • Seeds are eaten by bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus).

Eastern redbud nectaries (glandlike organs secreting nectar, the sugar-rich liquid source for honey) elude short-tongued bees, such as those in the genera of Andrena, Colletes (plasterer bees), Halictus, Macropis, and Prosopis in North America. Instead, Eastern redbud trees enlist long-tongued bees, such as the carpenter bee (genus Xylocopa), as their pollinators.

Caterpillars of the Io moth (Automeris io) feed on Eastern redbud leaves.


Part of mating ritual of Northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis): male is feeding female on branch of white-flowered Eastern redbud.

"Love's Old Sweet Song"
"Love's Old Sweet Song"

Culinary and medicinal ethnobotany: Usage in southern Appalachia and by Native Americans


The bark was boiled by such Native American tribes as the Alabama, Cherokee, Delaware, Kiowa, and Oklahoma for the treatment of whooping cough.

Native Americans also prepared an astringent (Latin: astringere, from ad “to” + stringere “draw tight”) from the bark for treating dysentery.

Other medicinal applications included treating congestion, fever, and vomiting through infusions (Latin: infundere, from in “in” + fundere “pour, spread”) prepared from steeping Eastern redbud inner bark and roots.

A culinary use, still appreciated in modern times, was Eastern redbud flower fritters.

Flowers are still popular today raw in salads, baked in muffins, boiled, or incorporated into pickle relish.

Seeds may be roasted, and the pods may be sautéed.

Eastern redbud twigs, when green, are a traditional seasoning in wild game such as opossum and venison in southern Appalachia. For this reason the alternative name for Eastern redbud there is the spicewood tree.


Eastern redbud: flowering on ground hallowed by the War Between the States (April 13, 1861 - April 9, 1865)

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania
Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

Redbud legends: The Judas tree


A relative of the Eastern redbud is the European redbud (Cercis siliquastrum), which is often referred to as the Judas tree. Cercis siliquastrum is native to the Mediterranean region, from southern Europe to western Asia.

According to myth, it was from the branches of a European redbud tree that Judas Iscariot, the apostle who is identified as the betrayer of Jesus in the New Testament, hanged himself.

Another explanation for this unpleasant association is that the common name, Judas Tree, is a corruption of the common name for the species in French, arbre de Judée (“tree from Judea”), which identifies the area where the tree proliferates.



The specter of mistaken identity which has haunted Eastern redbuds through confusion with European redbuds arose in a last-minute campaign to prevent Eastern redbud's elevation to state tree status in Oklahoma.

  • Early in March 1937, Roberta Campbell Lawson (October 31, 1878 - December 31, 1940), granddaughter of Charles Journeycake (Ne-sha-pa-na-cumin [December 16, 1817 - January 3, 1894), last chief of the Lenape (Delaware) tribe, and wife of lawyer turned oil magnate Eugene B. Lawson (May 27, 1871 - June 25, 1931), delayed signing of the Senate Joint Resolution by Governor Ernest Whitworth Marland (May 8, 1874 – October 3, 1941) with her urgent telegram excoriating Eastern redbud as the Judas tree.
  • The controversy was resolved by John Y. Iskian (born ca. 1904), a Jerusalem transplant living in Oklahoma City, central Oklahoma, who asserted unequivocally, from personal knowledge, that, although the two trees bloomed at the same time and shared same-colored flowers, canadensis and siliquastrum comprised different, distinct species within the redbud (Cercis) genus.
  • On March 30, 1937, Eastern redbud received official designation as Oklahoma's state tree.


Eastern Redbud at Rocky Falls, Ozarks National Scenic Riverways

"Redbuds add even more beauty to Rocky Falls in the springtime."
"Redbuds add even more beauty to Rocky Falls in the springtime."

“When the red-bud blooms in the spring. . . .My heart will sing”


May Frink Converse (May 12, 1877 - December 5, 1957) was a Kansan poet whose husband, Asa Finch Converse (September 11, 1875 - November 13, 1942), was an esteemed editor, publisher, and state representative (13th District, 1935-1937-1939-1941). One of May’s poems, entitled “Red-Bud,” published in Contemporary Kansas Poetry in 1927, honored the Eastern redbud’s genus, Cercis.

Although the poem seems to suggest the sad legend, mentioned above, linking one of its species, Cercis siliquastrum, with the suicide of Judas Iscariot, the great truth of Cercis canadensis is that its pastel outburst in early spring fills the hearts of its beholders with the “sheer rapture” of singing.


"Red-Bud" by May Frink Converse

I will go, I said, to the country

When the red-bud blooms in the spring

And then, as of old, for sheer rapture

My heart will sing.


The red-bud rosily blossomed

In valley and hill and plain,

And yet my heart could not banish

Its sense of pain.


pastel splendor of Eastern redbud flowers

New York Botanical Gardens, the Bronx, New York City
New York Botanical Gardens, the Bronx, New York City



My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.


Cercis canadensis Red Bud: illustration by Franz Joseph Martin Prestele (November 1796 - March 9, 1867)

In 1843 Franz Joseph Martin Prestele (1796-1867) settled in Middle Ebenezer, Amana Colonies; he made lithograph prints of flora for the Smithsonian; prints by him and his 2 sons, Gottlieb and Henry, are displayed in Museum of Amana History, eastern Iowa.
Plates Prepared Between the Years 1849 and 1859 (1891), Plate 39.
Plates Prepared Between the Years 1849 and 1859 (1891), Plate 39.

Sources Consulted


Aldworth, Susan J. “Cercis canadensis (Eastern redbud) Fabaceae (Bean family).” Trees and Shrubs of the Campus of Iowa State University. Ames IA: Iowa State University Department of Botany, 1998.

"The Amana Arts Guild Center." National Park Service > Travel Itineraries > The Amana Colonies. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Web. www.nps.gov

  • Available via National Park Service at: http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/amana/art.htm

Blomstrom, David. "Oklahoma's State Tree: The Redbud." GeoSymbols > The World > North America > United States. 1994 - 2013. Geobopological Survey. Web. www.geosymbols.org

  • Available at: http://www.geosymbols.org/World/Oklahoma/Tree

Brand, Mark H. (Dr.). “Cercis canadensis Eastern Redbud.” UConn Plant Database. 1997 - 2001. University of Connecticut Department of Plant Science, Storrs CT. Web. www.hort.uconn.edu

  • Available at: http://www.hort.uconn.edu/plants/c/cercan/cercan1.html

Browne, Maimee Lee Robinson. Redbud in Poetry. Foreword by Maude R. Calvert: "How the Redbud Became the Oklahoma State Tree." N.p.: Glencoe-Vacherie Press, 1964.

Browne, Maimee Lee Robinson. So Much I Wished to Say: A Selection of Poems. N.p.: Glencoe-Vacherie Press, 1967.

Converse, May Frink. “Red-Bud.” Page 31. In: Helen Rhoda Hoopes, Contemporary Kansas Poetry. Kansas City: Joseph D. Havens Co., 1927.

Dickson, James G. Cercis canadensis L. Eastern Redbud.” Silvics of North America. Volume 2: Hardwoods. Agriculture Handbook 654. Washington, DC: U.S.D.A. Forest Service, December 1990.

“Eastern Redbud Cercis canadensis L.” Plant Guide. U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service. Prepared by Diana L. Immel, University of California-Davis Environmental Horticulture Department. Edited: June 01, 2006.

Michener, Charles D. The Bees of the World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. The Oklahoma Forestry Code. Title 2, Article 16 of the Oklahoma Statutes. Revised July 1, 2007. Oklahoma City, OH: Oklahoma Forestry Services Division, 2007.

  • Available at: www.forestry.ok.gov/Websites/forestry/Images/code,%202007.pdf

Paustenbaugh, Jennifer, Sarah Kay Kunkler, R. Darcy, Cathy Seagraves and David Peters. Distinguished Oklahoma Women. Oklahoma State University. Web. ojs.library.okstate.edu

  • Available at: http://ojs.library.okstate.edu/osu/index.php/OKPolitics/article/viewFile/1056/953

Peck, Rebekah. "Redbud." Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture. Oklahoma Historical Society and Oklahoma State University Library Electronic Publishing Center. Web. digital.library.okstate.edu

  • Available at: http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/R/RE016.html

Plates Prepared Between the Years 1849 and 1859, to Accompany a Report on The Forest Trees of North America by Asa Gray. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1891.

  • Available via Internet Archive at: http://archive.org/details/39088000610261
  • Available via Internet Archive at: http://archive.org/details/platespreparedb00instgoog
  • Available via Smithsonian Institution Libraries-Digital Collections at: http://www.sil.si.edu/digitalcollections/BHLCollections/BHL_title.cfm?bib_id=39088000610261

Root, Amos Ives and Ernest Rob Root. The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture: A Cyclopedia of Everything Pertaining to the Care of the Honey-bee; Bees; Hives, Honey, Implements, Honeyplants, etc. Facts Gleaned from the Experience of Thousands of Bee-keepers, and Afterward Verified in Our Apiary. Medina OH: A.I. Root Co., 1910.

  • Available via Biodiversity Heritage Library at: http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/8970#/summary
  • 1908 edition available via HathiTrust at: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/005797241
  • Available via Internet Archive at: http://archive.org/details/abcxyzofbeecultu00root

Weizman, Limor, Emily Silver, and Hannah Ramer. “Taste of the Wild: A Guide to Edible Plants and Fungi of New England.” Field Biology Electronic Field Guides: Created by Students of Daniel L. Perlman. Fall 2006. Brandeis University. Web. www.bio.brandeis.edu

  • Available at: http://www.bio.brandeis.edu/fieldbio/Edible_Plants_Ramer_Silver_Weizmann/Pages/Homepage.html


Eastern redbuds in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

"A close view of the pink flowers on an eastern redbud tree."
"A close view of the pink flowers on an eastern redbud tree."
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Cercis canadensis, New York: photo by John Cancalosi

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle ~ Ardea Wildlife Pets

Dogwood trees (Cornus florida) and Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) flowering in spring

photo by Adam Jones: Kentucky native, nature photographer specializing in Great Smoky Mountains
Dogwood Trees, Cornus Florida, and Eastern Redbud, Cercis Canadensis, Flowering in the Spring

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 08/20/2014, DerdriuMarriner
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


DerdriuMarriner on 05/26/2015

happynutritionist, Thank you! Me, too, I also enjoy spring's flowering trees. Everything about Eastern Redbud is heartwarming and memorable: bark, flowers, leaves, seed pods, and tree shape. The continental U.S. is fortunate that, either through nativity or naturalization, Eastern Redbud thrives in all of the Lower 48. Eastern Redbud has been a cherished constant in my life.

happynutritionist on 05/25/2015

This is such a lovely and detailed page. I have enjoyed all the spring trees that bloom, and am happy to see that these grow here in New Jersey. I have enjoyed the flowers, and recognize the heart shaped leaves and seed pods from my wanderings.

DerdriuMarriner on 04/25/2015

Mira, Cercis siliquastrum seems to favor the Mediterranean part of its southern Europe and western Asia native range. Is it possible that it is found outside of urban areas in Romania?
Are there resources through the parks department, such as staff and records of what they've planted and are growing?
Here's a link to a short list of main trees in Romania: http://www.ibis-tours.ro/trees_romani...
Trees can be identified by their bark, buds, flowers, fruits, leaves, and silhouettes. One of the easiest ways is to remember the formula MAD for maple-ash-dogwood, which are the only deciduous trees that grow opposite paired leaves.
There may be publications available through the International Society of Arboriculture's chapters or associate organizations in Europe. Here's a link to that list: http://www.isa-arbor.com/membership/l...

Mira on 04/22/2015

Wonderful tree! You say there's an Eastern redbud, too, but I haven't seen anything like it here. I also have a question. How does one go about identifying trees? Someone largely ignorant in this respect. I love taking photos each spring but I can't identify the ornamental trees in parks.

DerdriuMarriner on 04/02/2015

cazort, Me, too, I love redbuds. Concerns about lineage of nursery purchases are important for me as well, so I appreciate that you mention the question marks connected with those purchases.
Self-seeded and wind-seeded trees have become precious for me. I especially cherish wind-seeded trees because of the surprise factor. Among my wind-seeded treasures are a black cherry (Prunus serotina), which truly came out of nowhere, and a plucky Virginia red cedar (Juniperus virginiana).
Have you self-seeded any redbuds or any other trees?

cazort on 04/02/2015

I love redbud trees! I find they readily self-seed too, and are easy to grow from seed, so if you are lucky enough to live near a wild population of them you can easily gather a few seeds and grow them yourself!

I would avoid buying one of these in a nursery unless I knew for sure where the plant's lineage was from, because the plant's native range is HUGE and many nurseries grow plants from far-away populations, which can leave them poorly adapted to local conditions, or cause outbreeding depression if they cross-pollinate with local wild populations.

DerdriuMarriner on 09/26/2014

burntchestnut, Me, too: redbud trees in bloom is a marvel and a wonder. It is touching to me that the pioneers in Oklahoma never forgot the singular sight of flowering redbuds.

AngelaJohnson on 09/25/2014

I love driving down the highway in apeinf and seeing redbud trees in bloom.

DerdriuMarriner on 04/04/2014

WriterArtist, Eastern redbuds are beautiful to behold. I am enjoying their pastel perfection -- along with Black Cherry, Flowering Dogwood, Forsythia, etc.
In addition to their face-to-face beauty, they also are extraordinarily photogenic.

WriterArtist on 04/04/2014

I love the this tree with pink colored flowers - the photo is fascinating.

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