You may have noticed some flowering trees already this spring: the white blooms of serviceberry, plums and ornamental pears and the pink of Japanese magnolia and peaches. Red maples have shown deep red color with flowers and then developing fruits. But the two real icons of spring-flowering Missouri trees are just now getting started. Eastern redbud trees are beginning to bloom, and flowering dogwoods will not be far behind. In some years, redbuds begin flowering in late March, but our cold February and much of March may have held them back this year. There should be some overlap in flowering times, with the redbuds beginning to fade as the dogwoods come into their full glory.
Eastern redbud is a legume, as indicated by its bean-like fruits. It is somewhat unusual among Missouri trees in having flowers that come from twigs of the previous seasons, including the tree’s trunk and older branches. That characteristic is more common in tropical trees where a substantial support is required for pollinators such as bats. Our redbuds, however, are insect-pollinated. The rose-purplish blooms are edible and are sometimes used in salads or as a garnish. They have a taste resembling a raw pea or peanut. Flower color intensity varies from tree to tree and can even rarely include white-flowered individuals.
Although small in stature, the flowering dogwood enjoys special status as Missouri’s official state tree and provides the theme for spring festivals in several communities. The yellowish-green flowers occur in small clusters at the center of four large white bracts, which are often erroneously referred to as flower petals. Some wild trees have pink-tinged bracts and the ornamental pink dogwoods originated from a wild tree found in Tennessee. Dogwoods are known for their hard, splinter-free wood which was used to make arrow shafts, machinery parts and tool handles. In late summer and fall, the tree’s bright red fruits are eaten by deer, squirrels, turkeys and numerous other birds.
By mid-May, both redbuds and dogwoods will fade back into the landscape as their striking appearance during flowering will have given way to green leaves. Let’s enjoy them both for the next few weeks.