The eastern redbud, or redbud maple (cercis Canadensis), also known as the spicewood tree, is a small, fairly common tree found growing wild or used in landscaping in the eastern United States. Its native range is from southern Ontario and New York, south all the way to Texas, Florida and even Mexico. It grows east of the Mississippi to the Atlantic Ocean. In its native range its showy flowers in early spring make it a popular landscaping tree.
The redbud is a fast growing tree and can grow up to 15 feet in five years. Its maximum height is between 20-30 feet with a canopy spread of between 8-10 feet. Because of its small size and the redbud’s ability to grow in many types of soil it is used in landscaping both in rural and urban areas inside of its native range. Planting is best done in the autumn before the ground freezes but late enough in the year that the tree is dormant.
Like most other trees in its native range the redbud is a deciduous tree, or rather it drops its leaves in the autumn. Before the redbud drops its leaves they provide a brilliant display of vivid yellow. Trees goes into dormancy in the autumn after their leaves have dropped but they awaken in late winter and by early spring from late March through early May redbud trees are adorned with clusters of brilliant pink flowers that give the redbud its name.
Each individual redbud flower is ½ inch long and they range in color from pastel pink to fuchsia in color. The flowers attract bumble bees and butterflies that pollinate the flowers. When the alternate leaves emerge mid-spring they are heart shaped. Different types of caterpillars eat leaves of the redbud maple tree. The fruits of the tree are entombed in what resembles papery, brown pea pods.
In Native American culture the flowers of the redbud maple tree were eaten raw or boiled. Native Americans also used to roast the seeds and eat them. In rural parts of North America like Appalachia young twigs are cut from the redbud and used in many dishes to add extra flavor. The twigs may be directly added to dishes like roasts to allow the flavor to slow cook into meats and vegetables. This may be where the redbud maple got its nickname “spicewood”.
In early spring in eastern parts of North America it is difficult to find a showier, more beautiful tree. By summer the tree may have lost its flowers but it is an excellent food source and serves as a habitat for many different animals and insects. Then in autumn it is hard to match its brilliant gold display. It is no wonder why the redbud maple is so popular with homeowners and nature lovers.