Eastern Redbud

Cercis canadensis

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Illustration of eastern redbud leaves, flowers, fruits.
Eastern redbud, Cercis canadensis.
Paul Nelson
Family

Caesalpiniaceae (sennas); sometimes in Fabaceae (beans, peas)

Description

Eastern redbud is a shrub or small tree. It is very ornamental in spring with small, clustered, rose-purple flowers covering the bare branches before the leaves.

Leaves are simple, alternate, 2–6 inches long, 1¼–6 inches wide, oval to heart-shaped, tip pointed, base heart-shaped; upper surface dark green, smooth; lower surface paler and smooth with some hairs along veins and in vein axils; leaf stalk 1¼–5 inches long, smooth.

Bark is reddish brown to gray, thin and smooth when young. Older trees have long grooves and short, thin, blocky plates.

Twigs are slender, smooth, brown to gray, often zigzag, pith white.

Blooms in late March to early May.

Flowers small, 2–8 per cluster, on stalks ¼–¾ inch long; flowers 1/4–3/8 inch long, rose-purple, petals 5, in a typical pea-flower configuration.

Fruits are pods 3–4 inches long, about ½ inch wide, tapering at the ends, leathery, reddish brown; seeds several, egg-shaped, flattened, 1/8–1/4 inch long. Pods often abundant, appearing September–October and persisting.

Size

At maturity, to 40 feet tall; to 35 feet wide.

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Photo of eastern redbud blossoms
Eastern Redbud
Eastern redbud is a native shrub or small tree that is distinctly ornamental in spring.

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Photo of an eastern redbud tree growing at woodland border
Eastern Redbud
Redbud grows statewide, in open woodland, borders of woods, dolomite glades, and along rocky streams and bluffs.

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Eastern redbud tree branch covered in rose-purple blossoms
Eastern Redbud (Flowers)
In spring, eastern redbud's rose-purple flowers cover the bare branches before the leaves.

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Photo of an eastern redbud tree in bloom
Eastern Redbud
Eastern redbud flowers are edible and can be eaten in salads, either raw or pickled.

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Video of a redbud tree in bloom.

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A redbud branch in bloom with rose-purple flowers
A redbud branch in bloom

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pink redbud flowers
Eastern Redbud Flowers
Clusters of hot pink, pea-like flowers hug the branches of an eastern redbud.

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A redbud tree in bloom.
A redbud tree in bloom

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A boy eating redbud flowers right off the branch
Eat a Tree
The hot pink flowers of eastern redbud have a nutty, sweet taste similar to sugar snap peas. Yum!
Habitat and conservation

Found in open woodland, borders of woods, dolomite glades, and along rocky streams and bluffs; also found in landscape plantings. In the wild, it is generally an understory tree.

image of Eastern Redbud distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Status

Common understory tree.

Human connections

Eastern redbud and its cultivars are favorite small, spring-flowering trees for landscaping; in fall the leaves turn yellow or greenish yellow. Many find the pods attractive as well. The flowers are edible and can be eaten in salads, either raw or pickled; in Mexico, they are fried. Our woodlands in spring are beautified by clouds of blooming understory trees, notably the magenta of redbuds and the white of dogwoods, a boon to Missouri tourism.

Ecosystem connections

The seeds are eaten by several species of birds, and the foliage is browsed by white-tailed deer. The flowers are a springtime nectar source for bees. Redbud also provides cover for many mammals and birds.