Redbuds can tolerate various soils, conditions
What a crazy late winter and early spring we’ve had so far this year: warm, cold and repeat.
In fact, I had the wild idea that Feb. 15 was a good time to plant some tomatoes because it wasn’t going to frost again. Well, that blast of cold we had last week certainly showed me how silly that idea was. Oh well. I have plenty of replacements that will be planted at the correct time.
But even with the fluctuations in the weather and the talk of changing weather patterns, I take solace in the fact that Mother Nature knows when to wake up our gardens and landscapes at the right time. I look at plants growing in wild areas for clues that spring is right around the corner.
Red maples started flowering at their usual time, the third week of January. This timing has varied only by a few days over the past 11 years. The bright-yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers of Carolina jessamine reveal how far this vine scrambles through the landscape.
One of my favorite spring indicators is our native redbud. Known botanically as Cercis canadensis, redbud is a small tree that flowers early in the spring. It’s a good thing redbuds bloom so early because they are usually found in the understory. It’s common to see a redbud framed or silhouetted by leafless hardwoods poking out along the state’s highways.
The redbud is a readily adaptable species that can tolerate many different soil and climatic conditions, except in the coastal counties. They are much more common north of Hattiesburg. First, they’re found growing in the swales around creeks. Farther north, they become more common on flatter land. Be on the lookout on Highway 45 north of Meridian for one of my favorite individual trees standing alone at the back of a field.
Redbud flower color is gorgeous, ranging from light, clear pink to purplish pink. There are even several white-flowered selections in the nursery trade. The flowers are grouped in clusters held tightly against the stems and branches. The colorful flowers along the stems and branches create imaginative outlines of the branching structure of the tree.
The individual flowers closely resemble pea flowers, which makes sense as redbud is a member of the legume family. The young, unopened flowers actually taste like peas.
One of the best selections I would pick for the landscape is Forest Pansy. It has heart-shaped purple-maroon foliage with outstanding color when receiving morning sun. I really like the selections with leaves close to the Bulldog maroon varieties that are planted all around the main MSU campus.
When grown under optimal conditions, redbud is considered a small tree with the potential of reaching 15 to 30 feet tall. It generally has a short trunk and a rounded, almost umbrella-like crown. Foliage emerges after flowering is finished, almost as if it doesn’t want to interfere with the pink show. Heart-shaped leaves can be 3 to 5 inches across and are glossy green in the summer.