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Fabaceae (Leguminosae)
Deciduous, Shrubs, Trees

Valued for flowers, fruit, foliage. Clusters of small, sweet pea–shaped, rosy to purplish pink blossoms in early spring; where plant is adapted, blooms are borne in great profusion on bare twigs, branches, and sometimes even on main trunk. Flowers are followed by clusters of flat, beanlike pods that persist into winter. Attractive broad, rounded leaves have a heart-shaped base.

All redbuds provide fall color with first frost and are attractive in naturalized settings. Do any pruning in dormant season or after bloom.

Cercis canadensis ‘Ruby Falls’ (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.)
Cercis canadensis ‘Ruby Falls’ (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.)

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Cercis canadensis

Native to the eastern U.S. The largest (to 25–35 ft. tall and wide) and fastest growing of the redbuds, and the most apt to take tree form. Round headed but with horizontally tiered branches in age. Rich green, 3–6-in.-long leaves have pointed tips. Needs some winter chill for a profuse display of rosy pink flowers. Effective as a specimen or understory tree. ‘Ruby Falls’ has weeping purple foliage. 

Cercis canadensis mexicana

Includes plants from many sources in Mexico. Most widely distributed is a single-trunked form to 15 ft. tall, with leathery blue-green leaves and pinkish purple flowers.

Cercis chinensis

Native to China, Japan. Form most often seen is a light, open shrub to 10–12 ft. tall, 10 ft. wide. Flower clusters (3–5 in. long) are deep rose, almost rosy purple. Leaves are sometimes glossier and brighter green than those of C. canadensis, with a transparent line around the edge.

Cercis occidentalis
Cercis occidentalis

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Cercis occidentalis

Native to California, Arizona, Utah, but predominantly found in the California foothills below 4,000 ft. Shrub or small tree grows to 10–18 ft. tall and wide; usually produces several trunks from the base. Provides all-year interest. Magenta flowers bloom in spring; handsome blue-green, 3-in. leaves, notched or rounded at tip, and newly forming magenta seedpods adorn branches in summer. Foliage turns light yellow or red in fall, and bare branches holding reddish brown seedpods are picturesque in winter. Best floral display comes in areas with some winter chill. Resistant to oak root fungus. Very drought tolerant; excellent for seldom-watered banks.

Cercis siliquastrum

Native to Europe and western Asia, where it was said to be the tree on which Judas hanged himself. Generally shrubby, to 25 ft. tall and wide; occasionally a taller, slender, single-trunk tree. Purplish rose flowers that are pretty on the tree and good in salads. Large leaves, deeply heart-shaped at base, are rounded or notched at tip. Best with some winter chill. Occasionally damaged by late frosts in the Northwest. Resists oak root fungus.

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