Apr 13 2010

Signs of Spring: Redbud

Published by at 7:22 am under Phenology,Schenley Park,Trees


It’s been a spectacular year for redbud in Pittsburgh.

Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) is an understory tree whose flowers bloom in clusters from its leafless branches — even from its trunk.  Redbud is found throughout the eastern U.S. but hardly ventures north of Mason-Dixon in Pennsylvania.  Allegheny County is about as far north as it gets in the wild.  (See the Comments for more on redbud’s range.)

Redbud flowers are showy and attract bees who have tongues long enough to reach its nectar.  This floral strategy keeps carpenter and bumblebees very busy with a selection of complicated spring flowers: redbud, Dutchman’s breeches and Squirrel corn, to name a few.

After the flowers fade redbud’s large, heart-shaped leaves unfurl and long, bean-like seed pods form on the branches where the flowers had been.  By June the tree looks odd compared to its April beauty.

Take some time to look for redbud.  Right now it’s gorgeous in this too early spring.

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

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And on the subject of Too Early Spring:  I saw my first tent worms in Schenley Park last evening, three to four weeks earlier than they normally appear.  Tentworms coincide with black-billed and yellow-billed cuckoo migration, but the birds aren’t due back until early May.  Will the cuckoos have enough to eat if our tentworms are past their prime?

6 responses so far

6 Responses to “Signs of Spring: Redbud”

  1. Luana Rossbachon 13 Apr 2010 at 8:41 am

    Just to let you know, redbud trees are also found in the Rochester, NY area. But then the lake tempers the weather so that may be why they are here.

  2. Kate St. Johnon 13 Apr 2010 at 9:55 am

    Hmmm. That’s a surprise. I wonder if they were planted as ornamental trees. Here’s the range map for eastern redbud:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cercis_canadensis_range_map.png

  3. Mary Ann Pikeon 13 Apr 2010 at 10:27 am

    But then why is the variety “canadensis” if it doesn’t occur in Canada in the wild?

  4. Kate St. Johnon 13 Apr 2010 at 10:37 am

    Good question!

  5. Barb Simonon 13 Apr 2010 at 2:43 pm

    And the bean-like seed pods put Cercis Canadensis in the Pea family of plants – even though they are trees. That’s the amazing part. Think about it – along with some other trees that get bean-pod types of seeds. How many can we think of – and LOOK – the blossom resembles a sweet pea flower too – (in the respect that it is zygomorphic – which refers to the uneven shape with lower lips – or petals- larger than the top lips) as do the blossoms of all the trees that get bean-pod types of seeds. Some of them – off the top of my head – are Kentucky Coffee tree, also, both Honey Locust and Black locust.

  6. Davidon 22 Apr 2010 at 10:39 pm

    I’ve been told (by a friend who is very knowledgeable about edible plants) that the flowers of the redbud are edible. Said friend now lives in the Midwest and claims that they are seasonal offerings on some restaurant menus…

    (This is FYI only. Please don’t take my word as the basis for deciding to eat a wild plant; at the very least, individuals might have allergies to an otherwise safe plant.)

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