Eastern Redbuds (Cercis canadensis) have been in glorious bloom from Powell Gardens’ Gatehouse through the gardens and into its wildlands. Here is a planting off to the side of the Gatehouse where some flowering dogwoods (in white) set them off. We planted redbuds at the gatehouse landscape as they are such a great choice for beauty through the seasons and a native plant that reflects our spirit of place.
Redbuds adorn the front of the Visitor Center; someday they will arch over and shade the walks from the parking lot to the building. There are a few whitebuds planted to give a bit of sparkle and depth to the planting. They are naturally an understory (small) tree doing well at the edge of a woods but give a nice “human scale” to a landscape. They set off the huge presettlement trees of shagbark hickory (center in the above image) and Swamp White Oak (right) along with a middle aged Pin Oak (left).
Redbuds are often multi-trunked and the trunks often recline with age. Each tree develops a distinct form so I think of them as living sculptures. If you like lollipop trees, then the redbud is not a good choice for you. It is also not a good choice for restricted spaces. Redbuds are about as long-lived as us and can be rejuvenated by removing old trunks and allowing basal sprouts to replace them. They are short-lived because they are partially pioneer species. They colonize old fields and disturbed areas and become a nurse plant to future trees that eventually grow up and shade them out. Rebuds bloom best in full sun but will be OK in light shade with a lighter bloom.
Redbud trunks are a work of art always covered with blue-gray and chartreuse lichens and throwing off a few clusters of flowers to boot! The lichens cause no harm and are epiphytic; remember Alice algae and Freddy fungus to a lichen to each other in this organism of two. At the base of a redbud trunk the old bark flakes off to reveal maroonish inner bark.
Oklahoma Redbud is a selection from a more southerly subspecies (or species?) of redbud (Cercis canadensis ssp. reniformis). Oklahoma Redbud is slightly later blooming with rosier flowers, glossier leaves and has a more upright, compact stature. It is a better choice for boulevards and other restricted spaces. Oklahoma Redbud is actually a cloned cultivar selected from the Arbuckle Mountains of Oklahoma but has proved hardy to the Greater Kansas City area.
Powell Gardens has an extensive collection of redbuds from around the world. This is the only known hardy selection of Chinese Redbud (Cercis chinensis ‘Ames‘) from the North Central Experiment Station in Ames, Iowa. You can view them at the Visitor Center trolley stop. It is a large shrub with earlier blooming, rosy flowers. It is not available at nurseries, which carry the selections ‘Avondale‘ and ‘Don Egolf‘. Both of these are hardy to only -10F. If we have a cold winter like in decades past, they will be killed to the ground.
Here is the rare Afghan Redbud (Cercis griffithii) from Afghanistan. It has flowers almost the color of our native redbud and you can see it at the south end of the Visitor Center. It is also not hardy below -10F but we have not had weather that cold in more than a decade.