By Wendy Diaz EMGV
What a beautiful spring it turned out to be after that wet winter, and our native understory trees make the North Carolina spring that much more special. Durham’s Finest Trees is accepting nominations now through October 1 for the best examples of specific tree species in our county. The spring blooming trifecta of smaller trees like the Eastern Redbud (Cercis Canadensis), Dogwood (Cornus florida) and Fringe trees (Chionanthus virginicus) are also eligible, not just our magnificent giants like the willow oak or tulip poplar.
First to appear around early March along the margins of our leafless woodlands, as puffs of pink to light-purple color, is the Eastern Redbud. This tree is often multi-trunked with a rounded crown that typically grows to 10 to 25 feet with a similar spread1, 2. The showy pea-like flowers bloom on bare branches before the tree leafs out.
After flowering, flat bean-like seedpods emerge containing six to 12 seeds. The heart-shaped to broadly ovate leaves are short pointed at the tip and are also attractive. The leaves turn yellow in the fall. The Eastern Redbud does well in full sun to partial shade. The benefits to wildlife are threefold as the blossoms provide nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies (Henry’s elfin butterfly Callophyrus henrici)3, the tree hosts its larvae4and the seedpods provide food for songbirds. Honeybees also use the flowers for pollen.
Many cultivars of Redbud are sold at your local nursery such as the cultivar ‘Forest Pansy’ with purple leaves. One of the most extensive collections of redbuds in North America is found at the J.C. Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh5. Redbuds do best in moderate to dry soil conditions and tolerate clay soil. Protect their sensitive roots with a wide mulch apron. A new sterile (does not produce seed pods after blooming) variety developed by Dr. Dennis Werner at North Carolina State University called ‘Pink Pom Poms’ has beautiful double pink flowers6. It has Texas redbud genes so it tolerates heat, which is an important consideration due to our rapidly changing climate.
If you remember seeing a beautiful Redbud or any other impressive tree why not fill out the two page Nomination Form. Information on how to estimate the tree size is given on this webpage or the following link https://durhamnc.gov/1580/Durhams-Finest-Trees
6. Triangle Gardener March-April 2019, Beverly Hurley editor, page 17