Western Redbud (Cercis occidentalis) grows as a large deciduous shrub or small multi-trunked tree. It blooms early in the spring, typically before the heart-shaped, initially copper-colored leaves appear. The beautiful magenta pea-like flowers are prominent in March. In fact, Cercis occidentalis is a member of the pea family, and the flowers are edible! The bright coppery spring foliage soon changes to blue-green, and by summer, clusters of flat red or brown seed pods appear amongst the leaves. Toward late fall the leaves gradually drop, exposing the remaining pods which often hang on until spring.
These locally native plants can reach a mature size of 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide. They grow in the dry California foothills and on the Central Valley floor. The Western Redbud is very drought-tolerant and can survive without summer irrigation, but it can also handle being planted in a regularly watered lawn. It can handle full shade and can stay beautifully green all summer, or it can survive in full sun by going partially dormant in the summer when under heat and drought stress. It should be provided with at least partial shade if you want to keep it green all summer.
Different parts of the tree are used by Native Americans: stems for baskets, leaves for incense, and roasted seed pods for food. Both the flowers and young pods are eaten. Young fall redbud branches are highly valued by Native American basket weavers for their wine-red coloring, while the white inner sapwood of young spring branches is equally prized as weft wood. The UC Davis Arboretum features some particularly nice plantings.
For a listing of other plants growing around town, please visit our Town Flora page.