The Eastern Redbud is truly one of the most beautiful native trees to grace the North American Continent. This tree is showy, has wildlife value, but doesn’t get too large making it a great landscaping tree to grow near your home. I’ve grown this tree for many years, and have lots of first had experience.
I’ve germinated hundreds of Redbud seeds and have numerous trees lining my yard. Over the years I’ve come to learn a thing or two about this tree and can share all my knowledge with you.
In this article:
- What is the Eastern Redbud Tree
- What are the pros and cons of the Eastern Redbud Tree
- Identification / Characteristics
- How to Grow and Care for Eastern Redbud Tree
- What Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases effect the Redbud Tree
- Uses of Eastern Redbud Tree
- Where to buy Eastern Redbud Trees, and available varieties
What is the Eastern Redbud Tree
The Eastern Redbud Tree is a showy flowering, deciduous tree native to North America. Scientifically known as Cercis canadensis, it will grow to 25′ tall and wide in full sun and well drained soil. The Redbud blooms a beautiful, prolific display of pink flowers in early Spring that lasts about a month and feeds numerous pollinators.   
Facts about the Eastern Redbud Tree
- George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both planted Redbuds at their respective homes of Mount Vernon and Monticello  
- The Spring flowering is enhanced by cold Winters
- As a legume, the Eastern Redbud is nitrogen fixing, basically making it’s own fertilizer
- In full sun, the Eastern Redbud Tree can grow 2′ or more per year!
- The flowers Redbud Trees are edible raw or cooked
- Numerous species of bird and other wildlife enjoy the seeds from the Redbud Trees in the Winter
- The Eastern Redbud Tree is one of, if not THE showiest flowering trees that are native to North America
Native Range of Eastern Redbud Tree
The Eastern Redbud Tree is native to a large swath of Eastern North America from Texas and Florida North to Iowa and even into Connecticut. It’s range even crosses over into Southern Ontario. This is a testament to it’s adaptability to different growing conditions.
Natural Habitat of the Eastern Redbud Tree
The Eastern Redbud can be found in deciduous forests, open woods, and particularly along the South side of slopes and forest edges.  They are frequently encountered along highway ditches, as anyone who has driven through Virginia in April has seen!
Although not the preferred growing conditions, I’ve frequently encountered this tree in deep woods as an understory tree. But they do not grow well in shade! They survive, but their trunks arch toward the best available sunlight and they are quite unsightly in comparison to the majestic beauty of a specimen grown in full sun.
Eastern Redbud Tree Reference Table
|Scientific Name||Cercis canadensis|
|Common Name(s)||Redbud Tree, Eastern Redbud Tree, American Redbud Tree|
|Height||20-30′ (7-10 m)|
|Spacing||25′ (8 m)|
|Sunlight||Full Sun, Partial Sun, Full Shade|
|Soil Type||Clay Loam, Sandy Loam|
|Soil Moisture||Dry, Medium, Moist|
|Bloom Time & Duration||Early Spring for 2-4 weeks|
|Larval Host||Henry’s Elfin butterfly, Grape leaf-folder moth|
|Native Range||Eastern United States|
|Zone||USDA Zones 4-9|
|Notes||Very showy tree with high wildlife value|
What are the Pros and Cons of Eastern Redbud Tree
The flowering display of a mature Eastern Redbud Tree is something to behold. Even more so when many specimens are planted together, or arranged in a row.
The Easterne Rebud flowers are important nectar sources of numerous species of native bees. Additionally, the seeds feed squirrels, quail, pheasants, and cardinals.
The Eastern Redbud Tree is a residential friendly tree! It doesn’t grow too tall to be a threat of falling down, and is well kept.
Redbuds are susceptible to various fungal diseases. Younger trees are more at risk. But these fungal diseases can often be fatal if not caught early. [see disease]
On average Redbuds live 50-75 years, which is a shorter lifespan than most hardwood trees. BUT – it is still much longer than the dreaded invasive Callary Pear tree.
Identification and Characteristics of Eastern Redbud Tree
As a general rule Eastern Rebud Trees grow 12-30′ tall with a short trunk but an irregular, wide-spreading canopy / crown. Often it is multi-stem or has multiple trunks.
But, tree that grow in full shade may have a long, skinny trunk that arches. These shade growing Redbuds will grow like that, just waiting for a larger nearby tree to fall and provide a new window of sunlight.
Trunk / Bark
The bark of Redbud trees is gray and rough with small furrows and scales. Younger tree growth and branch bark is smooth and gray, and new growth (twigs) are generally reddish brown.
The branching or Redbud Trees will often cross over itself, zig-zagging through other branches. It is therefore a good idea to prune the crossing branches every other year in late Winter/early Spring.
The upper side of a leaf is medium green while the underside is a lighter shade of green.
Redbud Leaves in Autumn
The leaves of the Eastern Redbud Tree turn a golden yellow color in Autumn, eventually changing to brown in Winter. The fall foliage of the Eastern Redbud Tree is quite attractive, as it gives a nice yellow ‘pop’ to the landscape.
Flowering for Redbud Trees occurs in mid-Spring. Research has shown in some locations that the trees need 30 days where the outside temperature averages more than 50F (10C). 
In Spring, before leafing out, small clusters of pink-white flowers will form along the bark of the trunk and older branches before. Initially there are no stems in the bud-stage, but eventually small petioles will grow roughly 3/4″ long.
On average the blooming period for Redbuds is four weeks in mid-Spring. The blooming occurs in clusters of 2-8 individual flowers, starting off as a ‘hot-pink’ color (buds) and then changing to a light-pink color when flowers are open. Flowers are roughly 1/2″ long (12 mm), 5-petals, and are pea-like.
Eastern Redbud Tree seed pods
After flowering pods will form containing seeds. The formation of these seeds takes a long time, and pods will not mature until late-Summer to early Fall.
The pods are 2-5″ long by 1/2″ wide and contain 3-10 seeds. Seeds are small, hard and oval-shaped (3 mm x 5 mm) and flat (2-3 mm thick). The seed is similar to bean seeds.
How Eastern Redbud Trees spread
Eastern Redbud trees spread via seed. Most seed is released close to the mother tree by wild animals (Birds, Squirrels). Seeds that fall to the ground will often remain dormant for a year or two, as they have a hard outer shell.
Related – If one wants to go foraging for Eastern Redbud Seeds in the wild, then I suggest you have a look at my detailed guide.
The roots of the Eastern Redbud Tree are shallow lateral roots. They tend to be within the top six inches of soil, and will spread out past the crown. See my image below for what root system of the Redbud Tree looks like. This was on a 3-year old tree that I transplanted and moved a couple years ago.
Now, here is the interesting part. I’ve found two trustworthy references that state that Redbuds have a taproot, but in the presence of ‘impenetrable soil’, the taproot grows horizontally. Well, when I transplanted a 3 year old Redbud Tree, I saw numerous lateral roots in many directions – but no taproot! So, who is right? I don’t think I can give you a good answer, as my experience says there isn’t a taproot.
Eastern Redbud throughout the seasons
In Spring the tree will bloom it’s showy pink flowers. After the bloom, the heart-shaped (cordate) leaves will develop and it will resemble a regular deciduous tree (with the addition of seed pods). And finally, in Autumn the leaves turn bright yellow for a nice display.
As the Eastern Redbud is a deciduous tree, it will eventually drop it’s leaves in Autumn.
The infographic below shows how the Eastern Redbud looks throughout the growing season, what it looks like in Spring, Summer, and Fall.
Lifespan of Redbud Trees
On average, the lifespan or the Eastern Redbud Tree is 50-75 years, with some trees living up to 90 years. Charles Hatch estimated the lifespan of the Western Redbud to be up to 75 years in his 2007 book Trees of the California Landscape. 
Some references incorrectly state that Redbuds are short lived. And this is the case if a Redbud is infected with disease and untreated. But a 2013 study found numerous species of Redbuds in Illinois that had been planted in the 1950’s, showing that residential Redbud Trees can easily live 60 years or more. 
Grow and Care for Eastern Rebud Tree
The Eastern Redbud Tree will grow 24″ per year in optimum conditions of full sun and well drained soil. 
As a general rule, Eastern Rebud Trees will grow best, and prefer full sun (six hours of direct sunlight per day). Being exposed to full sun will result in the nicest shape tree.
Eastern Redbud is not too picky on soil requirements and will grow in any soil texture from sandy-loam to clay-loam, as long as it drains well. It does not grow in coarse sand . For pH, Redbud Trees grow best in neutral-to-higher pH levels.
Related ==> Learn how to determine your soil type here.
I have around 7 Eastern Redbud trees growing in sandy loam that is fairly compacted. They are growing well, with the ones exposed to full sun adding 2′ per year.
Also, make sure the soil you plant your Redbud in drains well. Redbud trees do not tolerate flooding, excessively moist soils, or soils with poor aeration. If you are unsure if you have well draining soil, then you should review our testing guide.
Eastern Redbud Trees like average-moist soils and are very suitable in most residential landscapes. The primary condition to avoid is excessive moisture or flooding. Redbud trees do not like wet feet.
Periodically you should prune your Redbud Tree. The branches of Redbuds have a tendency to cross over each other, which can lead to rubbing conditions that could wear away the bark. You need to prune branches that cross over other branches to prevent this, as exposed wood is a vector for many diseases.
The Eastern Redbud tree does not require fertilizer or compost. It is very tolerant of nutrient deficient soil.  The fact that the Eastern Redbud is a legume and is nitrogen fixing helps explain why it can grow so well in poor soil.
How to Grow Eastern Redbud from Seed
I’ve germinated hundreds of Eastern Redbud Seeds and written extensively about it, even researching different methods to scarify the seed. Based on all my research and experience, here is the proper protocol to yield the highest germination rates. But here, I will present you with a condensed process to germinate Redbud Seeds.
To propagate Eastern Redbud Trees from seed, you must first safely collect, store, and then scarify the seed.
To gather and store Redbud Seed
- Gather seed pods when they turn brown. Do not wait too long – animals and birds will clean them right off the tree quickly, in a week or so once they are fully ripe.
- Open the pods and let clean seed dry for a day.
- Store the dry seed in a sealed container in the fridge.
To Scarify Redbud Seed
- Place seed in a coffee cup
- Boil a small amount (1/2 cup) of water.
- Remove water from the boil.
- Wait 5-10 seconds, then pour the water into the coffee cup with seed.
- Let the seed soak in the water for 24 hours.
- Inspect the seed to make sure it imbibed the water. Any seed that has not imbibed water, repeat steps 2-5. Do not be discouraged, as I’ve personally had to do this in some years (I grow trees every year).
To plant Redbud Seed
- Prepare containers for winter sowing. Use milk jugs or 1020 trays with domes. (See our recommended products page).
- Plant the scarified Redbud seeds 1/8″-1/4″ (3-6 mm) deep. Do NOT plant them deeper than 1/4″. Redbud seeds planted deeper than this will not grow.
- Place containers in a location that receives morning sun and afternoon shade. Usually this is the East side of a home. This step is very important for germination and seedling development.
- Germination will occur in mid to late Spring.
- Transfer seedlings to a larger pot after a week or two. I usually let mine grow in 9″ diameter pots all summer, and then transplant into the ground in Autumn/Winter.
Video Guide to growing Eastern Redbud Tree from seed
Below is a step by step guide I made some years ago to germinate Eastern Redbud Seeds.
How to transplant Redbud trees / Planting guide
To plant an Eastern Redbud Tree, the process is quite simple. But first you must consider *where* you will plant it!
Choose an appropriate location
Always consider the final height/spread of a tree before you choose a location to plant it! Some good guidelines include:
- Call 811 before you dig. They will come mark any utility lines on your property for free, and this can save your life.
- Don’t plant trees underneath power lines
- Don’t plant trees closer than 6-10′ near your home.
The best location to plant a Redbud Tree is in full sun and average moist soil that drains well. Doing so will result in the well-shaped tree that grows fast and is healthy.
- Somewhere that gets full sun. Redbud trees will develop the best shapes / crowns in full sun where they are exposed to sunlight in all directions.
- Well drained soil. Redbuds don’t tolerate flooding or constant moisture. So, check your drainage.
- In an area where it can safely grow 20-30′ tall, and 25′ wide. The best location should be at least 10′ from your home, where it’s mature size won’t interfere with any structures.
Planting the Redbud Tree
Since Redbud Trees don’t require any fertilizer, you can simply dig a hole slightly wider than the pot the seedling is growing in. Next, fill the hole with water and wait for it to drain (this gives the tree it’s own reservoir). Then simply plant your tree, and back-fill the dirt you removed.
When is the best time to plant a Redbud Tree?
The best time to plant a Redbud Tree is either early Spring or Fall. The reason is that the soil generally stays moist, as the cooler Spring and Fall temperatures mean most plants don’t use much water. Plants have low water/nutrient demand in Spring/Fall, and those are the safest times to plant trees.
I typically germinate Redbuds via Winter Sowing in Spring. Then grow the seedlings throughout the Summer in larger pots. And then I plant them out in Autumn, or overwinter them in an unheated garage (once they are dormant) and plant them the following Spring.
How often do Redbud Trees need water?
If you plant your Redbud Tree in Spring, then it may need occasional watering during the first year during hot dry spells. Redbuds are shallow rooted trees, and it will take some months for the roots to spread out and get established.
If you planted a Redbud Tree in Fall/Winter, then it probably will not require supplemental water. Planting in Fall will allow ample time for the roots to get established and grow. And it will have available moisture almost the entire time due to the cooler damp soil.
How long does it take to establish a Redbud
If planted in the Spring, it generally takes one full growing season for a Redbud to get established. If planted in the Fall, the Redbud will generally be fully established by the following Spring, as the roots continue to grow long after the leaves fall off.
My own personal experience is that Fall is the best time to plant Redbud trees. And if in full sun, you can expect 2′ (60 cm) of growth the following growing season.
Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with Eastern Redbud
Pollinators & Insects
Bees are the primary pollinators of Eastern Redbud trees. This includes honeybees, bumblebees, mason bees, and numerous other species.
The Eastern Redbud also hosts Henry’s Elfin butterflies and the Redbud Leaf-Folder Moth, Grape Leaf-Folder Moth, and Grape Leaf Skeletonizer Moth.
There are many insects that we could consider ‘pests’ such as leaf-miner. But, the fact is, the Redbud feeds our ecosystem, so even though the following insects may make our tree look a bit more unsightly, they are all part of the food chain. None the less, damage from insects is generally not severe. But, we must mention the damaging insects within this section.
Leaf Hoppers will feed on the leaves of Redbuds. There are many different species, but they don’t really appear to do much cosmetic damage in my experience.
Two different species of Japanese Weevils will also eat Redbud leaves.
Additionally, there are several wood-boring beetles that will attack the trunks. These are often not fatal in and of themselves, but they will make entry ways for disease.
Deer and Rabbits
Deer will browse the foliage in the Summer. Although it is not a preferred food source.
Rabbits may eat the bark of young saplings. So, I recommend that you protect the saplings during the Winter Months. What happens is when there is a thick (6″) layer of snow, Rabbits will gnaw on the bark of any young tree/shrub for sustenance.
Redbuds and dogs
The Eastern Redbud is not listed as toxic to dogs by the ASPCA.  Nor is it included on their list of plants toxic to horses. I was unable to locate any reference to Eastern Redbuds, Cercis canadensis being toxic to any animal.
Disease, branches dying
Eastern Redbud Trees are primarily susceptible to three main diseases. 
- Botryosphaeria canker – a fungus that produces stem and twig lesions. This disease can prove fatal to a Redbud Tree, and in fact entire nurseries have had their stock killed by it. 
- Verticillium wilt  
- Leaf anthracnose – a Fungus that causes cosmetic damage. 
Both Botryosphaeria canker and Verticillium wilt will cause branches to die, or dieback. These two diseases can be fatal to an Eastern Redbud. Contact an arborist to get a professional opinion and confirm the diagnosis, as well as start a treatment protocol.
One of the more serious diseases to effect Redbud, Botryosphaeria is a fungus that causes dieback of limbs. It enters the tree from open wounds, so care must be exercised when pruning a Redbud Tree. 
The primary control of Botryosphaeria is to remove the effected limbs. You should then burn the wood to kill any fungal spores, and disinfect your tools.
Another fungal disease that can cause dieback of limbs on Redbuds is known as Verticillium Wilt. Like other fungi, Verticiillium Wilt typically enters the tree via an open wound. 
Early signs and symptoms of Verticillium Wilt are yellowing or wilting of the leaves (chlorosis) and branch dieback. Removing a sample of bark to reveal the sapwood underneath to confirm the disease, as discolored streaks will be present in the wood. Unfortunately, if not caught early, Verticillium Wilt can be fatal to the tree.
The United States Forestry Service reccommends pruning of effected limbs until no ‘streaked’ wood is present. You should frequently sterilize your pruning tools to prevent spreading the disease to other parts of the tree or plants. And finally, destroy/burn the effected limbs to kill the fungus.
In Spring, should you notice irregularly shaped spots on young leaves then your Redbud may have Leaf Anthracnose. This is a fungus that can cause the leaves of shade trees to become unsightly, curl/cup or fall off. 
Leaf anthracnose is made worse on cold, wet weather. The effects of this disease are primarily cosmetic. To control Leaf anthracnose, apply a fungicide to the affected foliage per the manufacturer’s instruction.
Uses of Eastern Redbud
The Eastern Redbud is one of the most versatile trees native to North America. It is an excellent, residential-friendly landscaping tree in that it doesn’t get too large to ever pose a threat to the house. It flowers for a month or more in Spring, and will not become frost bit (unlike Magnolias). And it feeds the ecosystem! What more could you want?
Parking Lot / Street Tree
The roots of the Eastern Redbud can be contained in small spaces, and are not large and invasive. So, the Redbud is a good choice for a flowering tree in parking lots, along streets, and near sidewalks.
Use the Eastern Redbud as a central focal point in a garden, border, or flower bed. It’s Spring flowering is unmatched by other non-native species. And it’s smaller size allows sunlight to feed other native perennials that can surround the tree.
There are ovoer 30 uses of the Eastern Redbud by twelve different tribes.  Uses ranged from seed food to basketry. Some of the medicinal uses include the following:
- The Alabama Tribe made infusion of inner bark to treat fevers. Also an infusion of bark and root was used to treat congestion.
- An infusion of bark was used to treat Fever and vomiting by the Delaware tribe.
- The Cherokee used the bark in an infusion for whooping cough
- Seed pods and flowers were used as food
- The wood and bark was used to make bows, baskets, and as cordage by numerous tribes
The bark of the Eastern Redbud historically has been used as an astringent for dysentery. The flowers are edible and can be added to salads raw or cooked.  The young pods can also be eaten similar to pea pods.
I’ve personally eaten the flowers and found them to be lacking in flavor. However, they would certainly make a dish more visually pleasing, and the reported nutritional benefits are great as well.
Where you can buy Eastern Redbud Trees
Eastern Redbud Trees are popular enough that even big box stores carry them. However, be aware that they tend to grow special varities and hybrids. So, be sure to read the tag in that it is Cercis canadensis, and not some strange hybrid or the non-native Chinese variety.
That being said, there are a number of native plant nurseries located across the country. You can find native plant nurseries near you on our interactive map. Not all of these nurseries may carry trees though, so check before you go shopping at one!
Varieties of Redbud Trees
Due to it’s showiness, numerous cultivars of Redbud have been bred.  Some of the most popular Redbud varities include the following:
- Ace of Hearts – Introduced by Paul Woody in 2005. Grows ~16′ tall by 15′ wide. The flowers are unique in that they are light purple/violet.
- ‘Alba’ – found in 1990, it white flowers. There are both Eastern (C. canadensis) and Western (C. occidentalis) versons of this cultivar.
- ‘Alley Cat’ was identified in Kentucky by Alan Bush. It grows 20′ tall and wide, and has “white splashes” of color within it’s flowers.
- “Amethyst Mist” has white leaves with green speckles when first emerging. Eventually the leaves transition to green.
- ‘Appalachian Red’ – was found in the wild by Dr. Max Byrkit in Maryland. Contrary to it’s name, the flowers are a neon pink color, not red.
- ‘Bonita’ has very glossy leaves. This cultivar variety may have been lost, extinct.
- ‘Cascading Hearts’ was discovered in 1997 in Tennesse by Steven Bennett. A dwarf variety, it grows 1 m tall by wide.
- ‘Claremont’ is a variety of Western Redbud with magenta flowers.
- ‘Columbus’ is a varitey discovered in Wisconsin. It *may* be cold hardy to zone 4.
- ‘Dwarf White’ – discovered in Illinois, it was found to grow well in compact areas. Growing 12-15′ tall.
- ‘Flame’ – Discovered in the wild in Fort Adams, Mississipi around the year 1905. It flowers later than most Redbuds, and the individual flowers are noted for being larger. The color is similar to most Redbuds, but the larger flowers are what make it distinct.
- ‘Floating Clouds’ – White and green blotches on leaves, and allegedly keeps leaves longer into Fall.
- Forest Pansy Redbud, Cercis Canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’. The Forest Pansy Redbud has plumb colored leaves and blooms purple.
- ‘Greswan’ is an Eastern Redbud with leaves that are a burgundy color at the bottom of the leaf. Discovered randomly in a seeding crop in Oklahoma in the year 2000.
- ‘John Sjo’ – has a lighter, or more pale shade of pink flowers.
- ‘Merlot’ – leaves emerge as a dark red-purple color. The flowers are also a light purple as opposed to the conventional pink.
- Oklahoma Redbud – Found in the Arbuckle Mountains in the 1960’s, this variety produces more vegetation than normal redbuds. The flowers are red-purple and starts blooming younger than other varieties.
- ‘Texas White’ – a cultivar that has white flowers.
 – Dickson, James G. Silvics of north America. No. 654. US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, 1990.
 – Geneve, R. L. “Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis L.) and judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum L.).” Trees III. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, 1991. 142-151.
 – Melinda Brakie. “Eastern REdbud, Cercis canadensis L.” United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service Plant Fact Sheet. Published 2010 Accessed 22JAN2022
 – Griswold, Mac K. Washington’s Gardens at Mount Vernon: Landscape of the Inner Man. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999.
 – Robertson, Kenneth R. “Cercis: the redbuds.” Arnoldia 36.2 (1976): 37-49.
 – Plummer, Gayther L. 1954. Cercis canadensis L.; An ecological life history. Thesis (Ph.D.), Purdue University, Lafayette, IN. 300 p.
 – Schmitt-Harsh, Mikaela, et al. “Private residential urban forest structure and carbon storage in a moderate-sized urban area in the Midwest, United States.” Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 12.4 (2013): 454-463.
 – Charles Hatch. Trees of the California Landscape. 2007
 – Geneve, Robert L. “Seed dormancy in eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis).” Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science 116.1 (1991): 85-88.
 – Li, S., et al. “Methods for breaking the dormancy of eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) seeds.” Seed Science and Technology 41.1 (2013): 27-35.
 – Graham, E. H. 1941. Legumes for erosion control and wildlife. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Miscellaneous Publication 412. Washington, DC. 153 p.
 – Landers, J. Larry, and A. Sydney Johnson. 1976. Bobwhite quail food habits in the southeastern United States with a seed key to important foods. Tall Timbers Research Station, Miscellaneous Publication 4. Tallahassee, FL. 90 p.
 -Proffer, T. J. Botryosphaeria cankers and dieback. Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, 1989.
 – Sinclair, Wayne A., and Howard H. Lyon. Diseases of trees and shrubs. No. Ed. 2. Comstock Publishing Associates, 2005.
 – Cercis canadensis, North American Ethnobotany Database. Accessed 22JAN2022.
 – Vines, Robert A. 1960. Trees, shrubs, and woody vines of the southwest. University of Texas Press, Austin. 1104 p.
 – CERCIS ICRA, United States National Arboretum. Retrieved 22JAN2022
 – ASPCA List of Plants Toxic to Dogs. Retrieved 23JAN2022.19
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