Monday, May 9, 2011

Shy and Refined

I was a shy child, always looking and waiting.  Every once in awhile I'd have a burst of chatter and immediately followed by mortification.  Although I've since learned to talk with others more easily, at my core I'm still shy and quiet.  Give me a choice between going to a big party with lots of people and staying at home by myself with a good book and my nature says, "stay home."

The Eastern Redbud tree Cercis Canadensis L. has much the same personality.  A spindly little thing with simple small pointed heart-shaped leaves.  Most of the year, it's hardly noticed.  This native Illinois tree wakes up in early spring with a show of magenta pink flowers borne on the leafless shoots.  During that brief period, it makes a grand statement and then after realizing everyone is looking at it, it drops the tiny flowers and is again nondescript.

Redbuds only grow between 15 & 30 ft. with a trunk up to 1 foot, and the crown is usually broad and flattened.  The shape and size lends itself to specimen planting and oriental gardens.The flowers only bloom on last year's branches or on the trunks.  The fruit is a legume which may be as long as 4 inches.  It self seeds rather easily and transplants well.

The Redbud will grow in most any soil, including clay as long as it 's well drained.  There are several hybrid varieties producing different results.

The Redbud does have some interesting history. 
  • It is used as a food plant for the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, including the Mouse Moth.  I found that interesting since the individual little flowers are shaped like little mouse heads. 
  • The tree was frequently figured in the 16th & 17th century herbals.
  • Another name for the tree is "Judas Tree" because Biblical lore has the Redbud as the tree Judas Iscariot hanged himself from after betraying Christ.
  • The flowers are used in salads and for making a pickled relish.
  • The inner bark of the twigs is used for a mustard yellow dye.
  • The flowers are pollinated by long-tongued bees such as blueberry bees and carpenter bees.
  • Green twigs may be used as seasoning for wild game such as venison and opossum and may be known as the spicewood tree.
  • It's the state tree of Oklahoma.
  • It will grow in full sun or in the shade of larger trees.
  • Native Americans consumed Redbud flowers raw or boiled, and ate roasted seeds.
  • The tree is often used on city right-of-way and under utility lines because they will not get tall enough to cause problems.
  • There's a small town in southern Illinois named Redbud.
The National Arbor Day Foundations has these facts: 
  • Native to North America and Canada with cousins in Europe and Asia, the Redbud was first cultivated in 1811.
  • The Spaniards noted Redbuds and made distinctions between the New World species and their cousins in the Mediterranean region in 1571.
  • George Washington reported in his diary on many occasions about the beauty of the tree and spent many hours in his garden transplanting seedlings obtained from the nearby forest.

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