There is nothing more exciting than taking a hike and stumbling into a patch of the eastern redbud, Cercis canadensis. It is quite common as an understory tree, with an extensive range from east coast to the central United States. Right now the vivid purple flowers are abundant at the Scott Arboretum. Although the straight species is exceptional by itself, there are several cultivars blooming in the Scott Arboretum that I would like to comment on.
The reason I love this small tree is its adaptability to sun exposure. Naturally occurring in the understory throughout Appalachia, it is a nice candidate for confined spaces that may not receive direct sunlight, most notably alleyways or tiny yards that must conserve space for walkways. Personally, I think every homeowner that has an ideal woodland edge should interplant young eastern redbuds en masse. It is a worthy investment for a spectacular spring show. The redbud itself isn’t very large, only reaching twenty to thirty feet in height, with a slightly smaller width.
There are several cultivars of redbud, some of which I love, while others I have yet to come to terms with. One of the two cultivars that I would use as a focal points is: Cercis canadensis ‘Hearts of Gold’ which has typical redbud attributes, but the foliage is an outrageous chartreuse color. Another is Cercis chinensis ‘Don Egolf’, named after the shrub breeder from the U.S. National Arboretum, Dr. Donald Egolf. It may be the most potent redbud in the collection as the entire compact plant is smothered from the branch tips to the trunk in flowers. Everyone seems to exclaim with awe upon viewing either of these cultivars.
Other hot examples in the collection are the plantings of Cercis canadensis ‘Appalachian Red’ in the Glade Garden. C. ‘Appalachian Red’ is a vivid red to mauve tone. If you prefer more subtle characteristics, then the white flowering form, C. canadensis ‘Alba’ may be to your liking. Personally, I think the purple leafed form, C. canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ is one of the top choices. The rich purple foliage emerges to extend aesthetic appeal and varies from green to cool purple depending on the leaves relative position to the outer portion of the canopy.
Another subtle redbud form is the tightly branched Cercis chinensis ‘Ace Of Hearts’. The foliage is arranged along stout branches that zigzag from leaf to leaf, forming two columns of tightly arranged leaves. The foliage and overall size of this cultivar is diminutive in comparison to the native species.
Whether you are driving along the highway or strolling through the Scott Arboretum during the next week, be sure to notice the spectacular purple flowers punctuating the ever-changing spring landscape.