Redbud Tree, the Understory

Ilona Erwin

Cercis canadensis, fam. ‘Leguminosae’, or the Eastern Redbud as it is commonly known, is a well loved tree for mid spring in the cold climate regions. It has the bright bloom color of trees found in more southern places, lovely heart shaped leaves, and the smaller stature of other understory trees like the Dogwood. These features make it a favorite.

It is native to eastern North America, but its hardiness depends on origination (so purchase from source in your hardiness zone –look up your zone here).

The Look of the Eastern Redbud Tree

Eastern Redbud tree leaves

Detail of emerging spring leaves | photo by Melissa McMasters on Flickr

The Eastern Redbud grows to about 20-30 feet, although most I’ve seen are much smaller even when mature. It probably depends on its growing conditions. It tends to vase to dome shaped, and most have bright pink, pea shaped flowers and persistent pods fluttering from the branches.

The flowers start as tiniest little pink slippers of bud, then expand into deeper rose…just the color many old fashioned roses. They stand out brightly in the spring landscape, and look especially lovely with companions of dark evergreens and white blooming viburnums.
Eastern Redbud tree portrait

Consider growing it in more shady areas in the South.

in addition, these types of understory trees also (rarely) come in white flowering forms, such as “Cercis canadensis alba”, and purple leaved form, Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’. Both are very choice and highly desirable landscape trees.

Royal White Redbud


Growing Cercis Canadensis In The Garden

This is an informal looking tree, and it’s color may clash with orange or ochre colored buildings. On the other hand, this may be an excellent ornamental choice if you have a modern home or a garden that is partly shady. Try to imagine your home with a splash of soft purple magenta  beside it. If it doesn’t appeal to you, choose one of the white flowered varieties.

For me, it is lovely within a grove of other trees. However, I experienced trouble when one of the Cercis was crowded by evergreens. My advice is to give it some space and enough sunlight, especially in the company of evergreen trees.

group of redbud trees under large shade tree

Understory trees in landscape | photo by Field Outdoor Spaces on Flickr

Redbud Garden Pictures

What might make an attractive garden scene? One planting plan could include pink tulips such as ‘Pink Diamond’ and a dark maroon such as ‘Queen of Night’. If the group is in full sun, underplanted with phlox subulata.

Virginia bluebells, Iberis sempervirens, lamium maculatum, phlox divaricata, daffodil ‘Thalia’ with its delicate pure white flowers, all make good companions for a spring garden plan centered around the Redbud tree.

Money plant, Lunaria annua, comes back from seed each year and is a harmonious red purple hue with later silver seedpods which makes it a lovely season extending prospect.

The flowers appear on bare branches before the tree leafs out.

You can prune the lateral branches to give the tree more strength. The more of a right angle the branch connects to the trunk, the stronger the branch structure.

Both the Eastern Redbud and Lunaria are prolific reseeders, so take that into account if your garden has rich fertile conditions.

Facts About Growing Redbuds

  • full sun to partial shade
  • moisture retaining soil (like most forest land inhabitants)
  • yet tolerates dry conditions and most soils
  • Zones 4b to 9a
  • fast growing
  • prolific seeder
Purchase This Understory Tree

Eastern Redbud
from: Nature Hills Nursery, Inc.

Fun Facts

  • The state tree of Oklahoma
  • Redbud flowers and seedpods are edible



Other Redbud Trees:

Forest Pansy Redbud

View the Gardening Tips Video

Other Understory Trees

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.