One of my favorite signs of spring is the flowers of the Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis). Eastern Redbud is a small to medium sized native species commonly found throughout the piedmont. They are typically an understory tree throughout mixed forests, and sometimes found along woodland streams. Due to its size and adaptability to partial and full sun, Redbud also makes a great native option for landscaping. If you see one you can get a closer look and see exactly how they got their name! Clusters of pink to reddish-purple flowers appear even before the leaves do, usually by mid-March here in the Raleigh area. These flowers bud from the branches and sometimes even directly on the tree trunk.
These early blooms benefit the wildlife that also become more active this time of year- including nectar-seeking bees, hummingbirds and butterflies. Redbud flowers can also provide nesting material and food sources for a variety of animals. Shortly after the Redbud blooms, reddish heart-shaped leaves begin to emerge. As these leaves grow they gradually turn into a dark green, but maintain their heart-shape. This makes them an easy species to identify even after the flower petals have fallen.
By late summer to fall, the pollinated flowers from the spring have developed into bean-like fruits. In fact, Eastern Redbuds are in the Fabaceae or pea family. The fruit is a long, flat, seed pod (legume) that sometimes holds on to the tree even after the leaves fall. These, too, provide a food source for many species of wildlife.