Oklahoma's State Tree is really showing off this week!

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There are two things you can count on in early April – the redbud trees will be putting on a show and I will be talking about the them. 

Our goal for our weekly email is to discuss what we are seeing in the lawn and landscapes we visit.  The Oklahoma State Tree, Cercis Canadensis, Redbud, has been creating a lot of attention this week.

Michael Dirr, easily considered America’s leading woody plant expert, wrote in his textbook Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs about Redbuds: “No equal, no competitor, can be found among small flowering landscape trees – the stage is reserved for this native species.” 

I agree!



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Eastern Redbuds are native to the Eastern US from Massachusetts to Florida extending west to Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.  In the native landscape, you typically see them as understory trees in wooded areas.  In late March or early April, you can’t miss them.  Their pink to lavender flowers brighten the landscape before leaves bud on most trees.  They grow in full sun and partial shade.  They tolerate clay, loam and sandy soils.  They adapt to a wide range of soil pH as well as soil moisture. 
 
But, the native Eastern Redbud has it shortcomings.  During the summer, the leaves are a disappointment in Oklahoma.  The hot winds of July and August leave the native Redbud leaves tattered and bruised. 

Thankfully, Oklahoma has an answer to the Eastern Redbud – the ‘Oklahoma’ Redbud,  Cercis Canadensis  var.  texensis  ‘Oklahoma’. 

Thankfully, Oklahoma has an answer to the Eastern Redbud – the ‘Oklahoma’ Redbud, Cercis Canadensis var. texensis ‘Oklahoma’. 

The ‘Oklahoma’ Redbud has a deeper purple color bloom and a waxy, thick, dark green, heart-shaped leaf.  The ‘Oklahoma’ is far richer in color in the spring and carries beautiful foliage through the hottest of summers.  In the fall, the leaves turn golden yellow. 
 
‘Oklahoma’ Redbuds can be used in every imaginable landscape application.  They are excellent lawn trees.  They are dynamic in groupings.  And they add interest to landscape beds. 
 
Redbuds grow 15-18’ tall and have a spread of 15’ at maturity.  Their small tree nature tends to produce a low branching, rounded top-growing pattern. 
 
The Redbud rooting pattern can lead to difficulty in transplanting.  If selecting a balled and burlap tree, it is best if the tree is harvested and replanted during the dormant season.  A good size to start with is a 1.5” to 2” caliper tree.  If you are planting a Redbud during the growing season, I would recommend purchasing a container grown tree, as there is less transplant shock. 
 
Other varieties of Redbud include:

  • 'Merlot' is a new hybrid with dark foliage similar to the 'forest pansy' but has glossier leaves that take the summer heat similar to the 'Oklahoma' redbud.  

  • 'Lavender Twist' is a weeping redbud with rosy-pink flowers.  The umbrella branching pattern only reaches 5-6' tall making it a good specimen for a focal point in the landscape.  

  • ‘Forest Pansy’ which has a shimmering, reddish-purple leaf.  This Redbud is a real winner in the spring.  But, in the early summer the leaves fade worse than the Eastern Redbud leaves.  If you decide to try this variety, select a place in your landscape where the tree will be shielded from the hot west sun and southern winds.

  • 'Avondale' is a little smaller reaching only 10-12' in height and width.  It is one of the most profuse flowering redbuds with very showy dark rose-purple flowers.  It also has a glossy, heart-shaped leaf.

  • Texas Whitebud’ is a white blooming variety of the ‘Oklahoma’.  It also has waxy, dark green leaves through the summer.

One final reason why I think the Redbud is one of our best trees -  It blooms only on the old wood! Stop and look at one.  You will notice that the last 6-12” of each branch doesn’t have any blooms.  All of last year’s growth is void of color.  All the color is on the two-year and older wood, occasionally even the trunk will bloom.  Typically, trees and shrubs bloom on the end of the branches.  Early blooming plants bloom on the growth from last year.  Summer bloomers, such as the Crape Myrtle, bloom on the new growth from the spring.  The Redbud is unique in only blooming on old wood.     Jim Paluch in his book,  Leaving a Legacy , tells the story of seven senior citizens who discover the magic of the Redbud blooming only on old wood.  They were inspired to not spend their later years withering away.  They asked, “If a Redbud can bloom on its old wood, why can’t we?”  The seven men struck out to make a difference in their community during their elder years.

One final reason why I think the Redbud is one of our best trees - It blooms only on the old wood! Stop and look at one.  You will notice that the last 6-12” of each branch doesn’t have any blooms.  All of last year’s growth is void of color.  All the color is on the two-year and older wood, occasionally even the trunk will bloom.  Typically, trees and shrubs bloom on the end of the branches.  Early blooming plants bloom on the growth from last year.  Summer bloomers, such as the Crape Myrtle, bloom on the new growth from the spring.  The Redbud is unique in only blooming on old wood.
 
Jim Paluch in his book, Leaving a Legacy, tells the story of seven senior citizens who discover the magic of the Redbud blooming only on old wood.  They were inspired to not spend their later years withering away.  They asked, “If a Redbud can bloom on its old wood, why can’t we?”  The seven men struck out to make a difference in their community during their elder years.

Oklahoma couldn’t have selected a better all-around tree for the state tree.  There is no better small flowering tree than the Redbud, especially the ‘Oklahoma’ Redbud.

Take a walk around your neighborhood, go on a bike ride, or take a drive.  You are sure to find redbuds along your route adding a bright splash of color to the spring landscape. 

 

Lorne Hall