In honor of Arbor Day today, I am posting about one of my favorite trees native to Oklahoma.
Probably the most beautiful natural plant growing in the state is the Oklahoma Redbud Tree (Cercis reniformis). [By the way, Cercis is pronounced Sur-sis.] This post contains many pictures of this tree and only one of the pictures was taken more than 3 miles from my house - most of them are from within a couple of blocks.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="495" caption="Large Redbud Tree (Cercis reniformis) in my neighborhood. Sadly, about a third of this tree was damaged and lost in the December 2007 ice storm, but it is still alive and blooming each Spring."][/caption]
To me, this tree is tied to the part of our state history that most Americans know pretty well. Oklahoma was first opened to settlers in a series of "Land Runs," where prospective owners lined up and waited for a gunshot before setting off to stake a claim to their future homeland. [The final 30 minutes of the movie "Far and Away," starring Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, captures the moment in history.]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="Beautiful Redbud tree (Cercis sp.) in another neighbor's yard."][/caption]
My wife's family was involved in the Land Run of 1889 and claimed the land where my parents-in-law currently live, surrounded by dense woods. Much of the land has been untouched and is in its pristine, natural state. Last Spring, my wife and I wandered around on the land and dug up some of the Oklahoma Redbuds (Cercis renifomis) which grow there naturally and transplanted them to our house. In our day and age, most everything I have growing at my house was started in a greenhouse or by some professional grower and transplanted to my yard. These transplanted native trees are a little more special, knowing that they were never touched by human hands before me. They are completely the artifacts of nature, with no human intervention.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="A wonderful, old Redbud (Cercis reniformis) near our house."][/caption]
[I should note here that we only transplanted two trees and did not destroy any ecosystems. The trees seed very well and there are many more to take their place. The balance of nature has not been disturbed.] :)
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="A beautiful, old Redbud (Cercis reniformis). Try to ignore the trash cans sitting under this tree."][/caption]When my wife and I went out on our Redbud transplanting expedition, my parents-in-law warned us that our transplants wouldn't survive. In the 15 years they have lived there, they have tried relocating some of the trees from deeper in the woods to a location visible from their house. They have never had a successful transplant. That didn't bother us much. We barely even got roots with our two 6-8 foot saplings, but both of them survived the transplant and are growing very well in our yard.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="Oklahoma Redbud Tree (Cercis reniformis) blooms. This is one of the trees we transplanted from my wife's family's land to our yard in town."][/caption]
The Redbuds in town start blooming in mid March, with the Redbuds outside of town following 2 to 3 weeks later. My wife and I have observed this consistent phenomenon for the last several years. We assume that it is attributable to the "heat island" effect, but I'm kind of surprised that the small city of Norman, Oklahoma would have such a strong affect. [According to the US EPA website, a city with a population of 1 million people will be 1-3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the surrounding rural areas. Norman is just about 100,000 in population.]
The blooms persist for more than a month and then fall away as the trees start to leaf out. I wanted to add some more pictures to this post to show the variability in coloration and form of different Redbud trees. There are wonderful examples all over town, but what better place to go than a college campus for beautiful trees and landscaping? The University of Oklahoma is right here in my hometown of Norman, Oklahoma.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="Redbud trees (Cercis sp.) on campus of the University of Oklahoma"][/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="Redbuds (Cercis sp.) planted along the length of the University of Oklahoma women's soccer field."][/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="Redbud (Cercis sp.) blooms and hanging seed - University of Oklahoma campus"][/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="Redbud tree (Cercis sp.) covered in seeds and blooms across the street from us."][/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="One of our transplant Redbuds (Cercis reniformis) beginning to leaf out."][/caption]
There is a pretty large Redbud tree in our neighbor's yard, right next to our shared fence. The tree overhangs our yard and sheds its seed. We have quite a few little 3-4" saplings that come up every Spring. I have transplanted several of them to pots to let them mature, while the others get mowed over.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="380" caption="Small Redbud tree (Cercis reniformis) that grew in our yard - about 4 inches tall."][/caption]
After they have gotten large enough, I will give these little trees away to friends and family that want a Redbud tree.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="Redbud (Cercis sp.) blossoms forming in clumps along the branches of a tree in our neighborhood."][/caption]
I carried my camera around town with me for a couple of days and took pictures of about 50 different Redbud trees. I was hoping to show the color variation in these trees, but the pictures don't quite show what I see with my own eyes. Regardless, I have lots of beautiful Redbud pictures. I was successful in documenting the different forms of trees that I have seen. The older trees more closely resemble the native trees that my wife and I saw when we went hunting in the woods. The newer trees that are being planted in many yards are nursery-grown and nursery-"improved" trees. I don't know if the trees are actually different species or if the nursery does something to "improve" the trees. They usually have much thicker trunks and the branches are more dense.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="A nursery-grown Redbud tree (Cercis sp.). The form of this tree is very different than the ones you find naturally growing in Oklahoma. It might be an Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), but I don't know for sure."][/caption]
Most of these nursery trees are really well shaped. Some are not (below).
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="Two very funny looking Redbuds (Cercis sp.) growing in a neighborhood near my house. The one on the right looks more like a Crape Myrtle than a Redbud."][/caption]
The nursery-grown trees are beautiful, but I wonder if they will be much like the Bradford Pear Trees that are all over town. The Bradford Pears have been improved for branch density so much that they are constantly splitting because they can't support their own weight.
The Redbuds that I see around town that are not Oklahoma Redbuds (Cercis reniformis) are most likely the Eastern Redbud (C. canadensis), which I see a lot at nurseries. A couple of weeks ago I saw a new variety of the Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) for sale. It is called 'Forest Pansy,' and has shiny wine red leaves in the Spring, which turn green but keep the purple tinge during the Summer. In Fall, the leaves turn yellow and orange like many other trees, while keeping some green and purple as well. I imagine this will become a very popular tree. You can read some more about the cultivar here. After seeing one specimen at the store, I saw two planted at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens over the weekend. They had begun to turn green and I really liked the mix of red and green leaves.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy' at the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens"][/caption]
Another interesting species in the Cercis genus is Cercis siliquastrum, the Judas Tree. This tree grows in the Mediterranean region. It derives its common name from a supposed myth that states that this is the species of tree by which Judas Iscariot hung himself after betraying Jesus Christ to the Roman soldiers. There is speculation that this name and the associated legend came from a mix up in translation, whereas the name should actually be "Tree of Judea," not "Judas Tree." Since the tree grows in the region of the New Testament events, someone mistranslated and then a legend was born. A motive was not established, but the tree was in the right place at the right time.
I hope you have enjoyed my Redbud pictures. If you're interested in a little sapling, let me know! I have several available.
For full disclosure, I must admit that I don't know the exact species of many of the pictures in this post. The Cercis genus is composed of about 20 species of trees. I have seen Redbud trees around town with varying colors (from bright pink to dark purple) and varying forms (from short and stalky to long and sparse branches). However, I am not enough of an expert on this genus to pick out the different species. I happen to know that the greenhouse grown trees have a shorter, thicker form than the ones that I find naturally growing in Oklahoma forests. I also know that some of the color variation just depends on what phase of bloom the tree is in. Before the buds open they are dark purple and the blooms turn lighter pink as the petals emerge. I tried to label all pictures accurately. When "Cercis sp." is used, I don't know the exact species.