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Environmental Studies

Cercis canadensis (Redbud) Fabaceae (Leguminosae)

  • The eastern redbud, Cercis canadensis, is in the bean family Fabaceae and is native to eastern North America from southern Ontario to northern Florida. Its showy flowers brings brilliant colors to spring and early summer.


    Physical characteristics

    The redbud tree usually grows from 20 to 30 feet high and spreads from 15 to 25 feet wide. It has a round shaped crown with irregular outline and grows fast.

    Leaf: The leaves of the redbud is heart-shaped and broad, and two to five inches long. The leaves are simple, and the leaf pattern is alternate. The leaves turn bright yellow during fall, together with its showy flowers making it a very good landscape plant.


     Flower | fruit: The redbud flowers in April and May before any leaves start to grow. The flowers have a butterfly shape form. The flowers remain almost closed and are opened by bees and other pollinators, preventing unwanted pollinators. The flowers may be on the trunk instead of all on the tips of branches, which is very rare in plants. The flowers have one pistil and ten stamens, and within the ten stamens one is smaller than the other nine that have the same size. Its fruits are brown pods from 1 to 3 inches with dry and hard cover. They are sometimes on the tree throughout the winter.


    mature bark of the redbud





    Trunk | Bark: The redbud usually has a short and often twisted trunk and spreading branches. The bark is dark colored, smooth and later becomes scaly with ridges.


    Life span:  When healthy, the redbud tree should live from 50 to 70 years. However, with certain pathogens, particularly verticilliim wilt, a wilt disease caused by fungi, and trunk cancer can significantly decrease its lifespan. 

    Photo By: Julia Giza


    Ecological characteristics

    The redbud is a native tree or shrub to Illinois. It can live in a wide range of climatic conditions, allowing it to have a large geographical range. Within its range, in dry south Texas the annual precipitation is less than 510 mm (20 in), and in moist central Florida the annual precipitation can be 1270 mm (50 in). It exhibits a strong preference for, and can be used as an indicator of, alkaline soils. It often grows on rich and moist soils, usually in partial shade. The redbud grows well in a variety of soil textures but it is not found in coarse sands.

    Distribution range 


    Potential range


    Importance to the ecosystem

    • As an seral species

    It is a facultative species in middle seres, forming a mid-story canopy layer. It can thrive on sites experiencing disturbance, like sites experienced tornado and fire, because of its vigorous sprouting ability, but it will probably be replaced in part by taller species when they begin to close the canopy. 

    • As a feeding source of many animals

    Many animals, including cardinals, ring necked pheasants, rose breasted grosbeaks, bobwhites, white-tailed deers and gray squirrels have been observed feeding on the seeds. Usually only a small portion of the fruits would be eaten during the fall, since the fruits will remain on the tree during the winter, they become very important for some small songbirds. The flowers are important in  bees’ production of honey.

    The bright fall color of the redbud

    Relationship with other species

    Non-human: Unlike most other plants in Fabaceae, the redbud does not develop nodules along its roots to form a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen fixing bacteria to fix nitrogen. 

    Humans: Because of the beauty of redbud’s flowers and fall leaf color and its wide adaptability to climates, humans widely use it as ornamental plant.

    Pests: The redbud is susceptible to insects like tree hoppers, leaf hoppers, caterpillars, and scales. It is also susceptible to diseases like canker, leaf spots, and verticillium wilt. Regular watering, fertilizing, and pruning out dead branches will help the redbud stay healthy. 



    Other interesting facts

    • Unlike most other members of the pea family (Fabaceae), the eastern redbud is unusual in producing leaves that comprise single rather than multiple leaflets.

    • There are three recognized varieties of the redbud: the eastern variety, the Mexican variety, and the Texas variety.

    • During the first year the redbud flowers, it does not produce fruits. After that it does every year, but copious fruits come in alternate years.



     Photo by Julia Giza


    Page drafted by Wendy Deng