Eastern redbud is a shrub or small tree. It is very ornamental in spring with small, clustered, rose-purple flowers covering the bare branches before the leaves.
Leaves are simple, alternate, 2–6 inches long, 1¼–6 inches wide, oval to heart-shaped, tip pointed, base heart-shaped; upper surface dark green, smooth; lower surface paler and smooth with some hairs along veins and in vein axils; leaf stalk 1¼–5 inches long, smooth.
Bark is reddish brown to gray, thin and smooth when young. Older trees have long grooves and short, thin, blocky plates.
Twigs are slender, smooth, brown to gray, often zigzag, pith white.
Blooms in late March to early May.
Flowers small, 2–8 per cluster, on stalks ¼–¾ inch long; flowers ¼–⅜ inch long, rose-purple, petals 5, in a typical pea-flower configuration.
Fruits are pods 3–4 inches long, about ½ inch wide, tapering at the ends, leathery, reddish brown; seeds several, egg-shaped, flattened, ⅛–¼ inch long. Pods often abundant, appearing September–October and persisting.
At maturity, to 40 feet tall; to 35 feet wide.
Habitat and Conservation
Found in open woodland, borders of woods, dolomite glades, and along rocky streams and bluffs; also found in landscape plantings. In the wild, it is generally an understory tree.
Common understory tree.
Eastern redbud and its cultivars are favorite small, spring-flowering trees for landscaping; in fall the leaves turn yellow or greenish yellow. Many find the pods attractive as well. The flowers are edible and can be eaten in salads, either raw or pickled; in Mexico, they are fried. Our woodlands in spring are beautified by clouds of blooming understory trees, notably the magenta of redbuds and the white of dogwoods, a boon to Missouri tourism.
The seeds are eaten by several species of birds, and the foliage is browsed by white-tailed deer. The flowers are a springtime nectar source for bees. Redbud also provides cover for many mammals and birds.