The Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) is a great Kentucky flowering tree. It is fast growing and reaches a small to medium height that works well with today's smaller landscapes. Its bright dark pink blooms are among the earliest to herald in spring. It also has attractive heart-shaped leaves that transition to a nice yellow fall color. Maybe because it is so common, people often overlook redbud as a choice for a landscape tree but if you haven't explored some of the newer cultivars, it might be time to give this tree a second look.
Two cultivars have won recognition as Kentucky's Theodore Klein Plant Award winners - "Appalachian Red" and "Silver Cloud." "Appalachian Red" was discovered on a roadside in Maryland and differs from the species by its brilliant fuchsia-pink flowers that are much darker and intense than the typical redbud. It grows 25 feet tall with a similar spread. "Silver Cloud" is a truly unique variegated form having green leaves that are blotched, dotted and streaked white. Unlike other variegated trees, "Silver Cloud" seems to retain this feature even in full sun sights growing in compacted and disturbed soils. It grows to 20 feet tall and like other redbuds has pink spring blooms.
If you like the dark foliage of Japanese maple and purple-leaf plum, you might consider "Forest Pansy" Redbud. This one has been on the market for a few years and is noted for its foliage that emerges as a bright scarlet and matures to a dark maroon. This species was found in a seedling block of redbuds in McMinnville, Tennessee.
My personal favorite, the "Ace of Hearts," is a redbud in miniature form growing only 9 to 12 feet tall. Its leaves are shaped like an ace in a deck of cards and are smaller in size than the species. It also has light lavender blooms. Because of its small size, this redbud can be worked easily into an existing landscape or even the back of a perennial border.
Finally, while you may think red, pink or purple flowers on redbud did you know there are also white flowering forms? "Alba" and "Royal White" are just two with spring show of white blooms. While white blooming trees are not that rare, it is quite unusual to see them on a redbud. Or maybe we should call it a whitebud?
As a whole, redbuds are very tolerant to deer browsing and poor soils. Their blooms provide nectar to native bees, bumblebees and sometimes hummingbirds. The Woodland Elfin butterfly also uses the foliage of redbud as a host plant for its larvae. Redbuds do have a few pests including canker and verticillium wilt and feeding damage from Japanese beetles and caterpillars but these can be managed. If you are looking for a small flowering tree, reconsider some of the great new cultivars of your native redbud.
Kelly R. Jackson is the Christian County Extension Agent for horticulture. He can be reached at 270-886-6328 or visit Christian County Horticulture online at www.christiancountyextension.com.