|Figure 1. Eastern redbud roots can be used to make red colored dye.|
Photo credit: S.B. Johnny en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cercis_canadensis
Cercis canadensis, the eastern redbud, can be found along the eastern coast of the United States, from Florida to New Jersey, and as far west as Texas. It can handle a variety of growing conditions, and temperatures ranging from -18° F in the winter to the 90°+ F Florida summers. Redbud grows best in direct sun in the northern parts of its range, but grows happily as an understory tree in the south. It prefers moist soils and does not do particularly well in salty conditions.
The eastern redbud is an aesthetically pleasing plant, with gorgeous purple red flowers that bloom in March (Figure 1). The tree depends on bees for pollination. The fruit pod will stay on the tree when the leaves fall off in autumn. When the pea-pod shaped fruit is mature, the pod will open and the seeds can be dispersed by the wind. Songbirds such as the Caroline chickadee and the northern bobwhite enjoy the seeds. You may also see a deer visit to eat the leaves!
Unfortunately, the redbud can get dieback. Dieback is a fungus that is first seen in the leaves and branches of the plant. The fungi will slowly cause the leaves and flowers to wilt, and then the branches will start to become brittle and turn almost a black color. You can prune off dieback, but if you are not careful you can spread the fungi to other plants in your garden. Make sure to wash and sterilize your pruning shears before pruning anything else!
You can purchase this lovely tree at the following vendors: http://www.floridanativenurseries.org/plants/detail/cercis-canadensis
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Smithsonian Zoological Park, . "Smithsonian Zoological Park Friends of the National Zoo." Backyard Biology: Plant of the Month. Smithsonian Zoological Park, n.d. Web. 15 Nov 2011.