Eastern redbud, Cercis canadensis, is a lovely small tree native to most of eastern North America. With a gorgeous spring bloom and carefree adaptability, redbud deserves and gets a place in many landscapes. Plant breeders have been capitalizing on this tree's innate genetic diversity to produce cultivars with even more to offer than the straight species. Foliage color, flower color, and tree form all can vary, if one is willing to shop around. The funny thing is, buds that are really red is one of the most elusive features on a redbud tree.
At right, open blooms on an unknown cultivar, or species, redbud. The closed buds are darker, but more purple than true red.
For flower color
If redbuds are notoriously "not red," then what are they? The species has purplish pink buds which open with unquestionably pink petals. It is a gorgeous display. Pink might not be your favorite color, though. A placement in front of a red brick house may call for one of the white cultivars of redbud. 'Alba' blooms just as well as the native tree, but in white. The whole tree is apparently devoid of a certain pigment, so the emerging foliage also lacks the purple tint seen on native redbuds. 'Royal White' is another white redbud. Individual flowers are larger than on 'Alba.' Originating in Illinois, 'Royal White' is a lovely, sturdy, cold hardy selection. "Dwarf White' is, you will not be surprised to hear, a white blooming redbud of smaller stature.
Maybe a white redbud is too much of a departure for you. 'Appalachian Red,' while beautiful, is criticized for being "not really red." It does have buds of a darker reddish purple. No cigar, but closer than the original. The buds open into hot pink flowers. Forget red, and choose your pink. 'Withers Pink Charm' bears superb pink buds and flowers. It is cold hardy, owing to its origin in the Virginia mountains, and was discovered around 1930. 'Tenneseee Pink' also blooms with a beautiful pink. Dennis J. Werner, of North Carolina State University, prefers the pink of 'Tennessee' to that of 'Withers'. Tree expert Michael Dirr proclaims 'Tennessee' to be of "excellent habit." 'Pinkbud', cultivated from a wild tree found in Kansas City, is yet another redbud in a lovely shade of pink. Then again, a decidedly different light blush pink bloom is found on 'Pauline Lily'.
There's nothing wrong with a natural redbud, but if you want a more strikingly structured tree you can have it. Redbuds are generally upright growers when young, and they spread as they age. (Don't we all?) 'Lavendar Twist' is a weeping form of redbud. The natural slight zigzag of redbud twigs is enhanced into contortions in the branches as well.
Also called and originally described as 'Covey', the first of these to be officially recognized
was a chance seedling acquired somewhere in the eastern U. S. by Connie Covey. Train the trunk of 'Lavendar Twist' to the desired height and then enjoy branches that weep to a graceful, upside down umbrella, shape. 'Lavendar Twist' blooms in purplish pink like the species. If pressed for space,
you may want a 'Dwarf White', though as noted before, it blooms white instead of species pink. 'Traveller,' with traditional redbud bloom color, is a smaller redbud with a broad mounded profile. Slightly arching branches lend themselves to a wider-than-it-is-tall tree.
Have your red (purple pink) buds, and fabulous foliage, too. 'Forest Pansy' is (symbolically) a counterpoint to Alba. 'Forest Pansy' seems to capture all the lost pigment of 'Alba' and pump it into intensely purple spring leaves. Summer leaf color mellows towards a dark green. Flowers are rose-purple. On the other end of the foliage spectrum, 'Silver Cloud' has leaves with striking, white, random variegations. This cultivar does benefit from some shade, and may sprout the occasional straight green branch. 'Floating Clouds' is a newer, sun tolerant, and improved, white leafed redbud. But you just may fall in love with yellow leafed 'Hearts of Gold'. Its bright yellow foliage would shine in any spring setting. Imagine the golden new leaves against the fading purple-pink flowers and dark branches."Wonderful leaf form and color - May 20, 2009" ('Forest Pansy')
"Hearts of Gold redbud summer foliage in nursery production, 08/17/06, Belvidere TN"
Odds and ends
Not last, and not in the least least, there's a double flowered redbud, called 'Flame'. It was recued from the wild in 1902. 'Flame' sets few to no pods, reducing what some feel is a messy trait of redbuds. 'Flame' may be more sensitive to cold and prone to breakage than other redbuds, but it shows promise as a parent to other double flowered cultivars to come. I haven't even broached the 'Oklahoma' or 'Texas White' cultivars of the texensis subspecies, with their more leathery, slightly wavy leaves. Last, and least in my personal view, is 'Little Woody'. This dwarf Cercis canadensis has crinkled leaves. It is different but that does not always mean better. Still, some must like the novelty, as apparently it is cute enough to be offered commercially.
Good luck choosing, and finding, your favorite Eastern Redbud
Certainly by now, you have fallen for at least one of the above selections. Many of these cultivars will only be seen at specialty nurseries or online. Even more choices may be available at those places than I have listed. Redbud is a widely adaptable and generally hardy small tree. Success is greater when you choose one appropriate to your geographic area, for better cold and heat tolerance. A balled and wrapped specimen will suffer less transplant shock. This in turn is reported to reduce the potential for disease later.
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Thank you to Daves Garden subscribers who graciously gave permission to use photos they have provided to PlantFiles:
ViburnumValley for 'Appalachian Red' and 'Hearts of Gold'
victorgardener for 'Forest Pansy'
Mary1NYS for 'Lavendar Twist'
Jeff Beck for 'Alba'
For feedback from other gardeners, and sources, on certain cultivars, use the Plantfiles links below:
Floating Clouds http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/187989/
Forest Pansy http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/31646/
Lavendar Twist http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/53336/
Silver Cloud http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/55817/
Hearts of Gold http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/149355/
Werner, Dennis J. "Breeding Efforts in Cercis at North Carolina State University" http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/fletcher/programs/nursery/metria/metria12/werner/index.html accessed 4-11-2012