To my knowledge – a disclaimer worthy of the mince-meat word “arguably” – there are no truly red redbud trees. Their flowers do come in violet, regular pink, screaming reddish-pink and frothy white – see attached photo of the ‘Appalachian Red’ cultivar for the screaming pinkish-red number.
They flower in straight lines, and in bunches, or clumps. They will also flower directly onto the trunk – a process known as “cauliflory.” In our neck of the woods the eastern red, or Cercis Canadensis, is incredibly prolific; Kentuckiana residents on the way to Destin, Florida for spring break will count several million along the road before hitting Nashville.
But the redbud “buds” are deep purple.
Not to get too hung up on that; nobody ever heard a dogwood bark either. And redbuds of all hues and shapes have their place in our March and April landscape when NCAA basketball results produce profound depression.
Those redbuds can come as stand-up, dwarf or weeping, with leaves of green, yellow, straight-up-purple and shiny burgundy. One really nice more sedate cultivar has light green and white variegated leaves. More on all that later.
In history, Redbud trees have been around since Judas Iscariot, after betraying Christ, was said he have hanged himself on one. The blooms of those ancient trees – supposedly originally white – were said to have turned pink with shame or blood. On their own. Deep guilt will do that.
American folk healers used the bark to cure diarrhea, Native Americans made bows and arrows from its tough limbs, and modern day gourmands have been known to use its buds in salads. In Mexico, the buds are fried and eaten. Sounds interesting, but I have never been that hungry.
Always aiming to please, Hidden Hill Nursery & Sculpture Garden has about eight cultivars of redbuds for sale, pretty much touching all the bases of horticultural neediness.
We have the ‘Royal White,’ which really does make a landscape statement when planted within 20 feet of Appalachian Red, a less than subtle reminder of the power of color.
Of greater interest, it’s true that some redbuds are produced by mad scientists in laboratories of sorts. Our weeping, purple-leafed ‘Ruby Falls’ cultivar, the perfect redbud for a very limited space, was born in a deliberate cross between the weeping ‘Covey’ and the purple-leafed ‘Forest Pansy’ – which we also have.
To quote these mad Docs, ‘The initial hybridization to obtain F1 seeds was accomplished by enclosing flowering potted trees of both cultivars in a screen cage and introducing a small hive of bumble bees” – a practice now probably illegal in 23 states.
The screaming-pink ‘Appalachian Red’ cultivar had a whole different birth. It was found growing alongside a road in Maryland – who needs a screen cage when Mother Nature offers her boundless opportunities? – and was released later by the University of Tennessee. Our yellow-leafed ‘Hearts of Gold’ cultivar was found in a North Carolina landscape.
The green-and-white variegated cultivar – dubbed ‘Alley Cat’ – has a more local story. Louisville plant guru Allen Bush found a seedling growing in an alley near his garden and passed it on to Harald Neubauer of Hidden Hollow Nursery in Tennessee to propagate and get on the market.