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Pining for early spring color? Check out the various redbuds


When we think of flowering plants, often times trees get left out.

In reality, all plants flower. The only exception is ferns, which make spores to recreate themselves.

That is not to say that every plant has showy flowers. There are always going to be some show-offs in every crowd.

Early spring is a time when the “show off’ trees really get a chance to strut their stuff. A few are evergreen, like the Texas mountain laurels that we talked about last week, but many are deciduous. And because they have no leaves to compete or cover up flowers, they are able to appear as trees that are clothed in flowers.

One of the first to start the show are the redbuds. Just about everywhere in the U.S., people are familiar with whatever type of redbud grows in that area. And as surprising as it may seem, all of the varieties will thrive here. I will give you some of the favorites and their characteristics:

Mexican redbud (Cercis mexicana) – soft magenta flowers grace every inch of stem on this small sized redbud. One of the smallest, maturing at 10 to 15 feet tall and 8 to 10 feet wide, this upright tree has the fleshiest leaves of all the redbuds. They are heart-shaped and glossy. Their thickness makes them more drought tolerant and much less desirable to cutter bees.

Texas redbud (Cercis canadensis var. texensis) – This is a tree that goes the middle ground on all issues. Flowers are darker than mexicana, but not as dark as reniformis; leaves are thicker than canadensis, but not as thick as mexicana; grows faster than mexicana but slower than canadensis. Growth rate of 3 feet or more a year give this medium sized more potential to give some shade as well as to be an awesome accent.

Eastern redbud (Cercis Canadensis), with very fast growth plus large lush leaves make this one of the largest and fastest growing redbuds we might use. The larger leaves guzzle water so it makes a splendid lawn tree where it gets its own water, plus some extra from the lawn. The huge heart shaped leaves are very thin, so they transpire water quickly and also are a target for those pesky cutter bees.

Oklahoma redbud (Cercis reniformis Oklahoma) – This is a well known cultivar of the feisty plains native. The thick, glossy kidney-shaped leaves are gorgeous and the flowers are among the darkest and most intense of the entire group. About the same size and temperament as the Mexican redbud, but a more handsome leaf and more colorful flower. Oops! Did I sound a little prejudiced?

Actually, my favorite is one very seldom seen in the desert, a cultivar called Forest Pansy, with huge, burgundy, heart-shaped leaves and rose pink flowers. It’s a special variety for a special place.

It’s easy to see that just in one kind of tree that we have many choices. Just like people, we find that variety is the spice of life.

If there is an accent or shade tree in your future, don’t forget to ask about the flowers!

Cathy Bishop, co-owner of Mesquite Valley Growers Nursery, has more than 30 years of gardening experience. E-mail her at familyplus@tucsoncitizen.com.


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