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Redbuds -- eat 'em upPosted Wednesday, March 21, 2012, at 3:48 PM
Photos by Steven Foster For photo prints, go to www.stevenfoster.com/prints.html
The Kiowa Indians of Oklahoma welcomed the blooming redbud as the dawning of spring. Flowering branches were broken off and taken into people's homes to "drive winter out." Sure, there'll be a few more cold nights after redbud blooms, but so what? Wood-splitting and heating bills are near an end.
This small tree, 12 - 50 ft. in height, remains unnoticed most of the year except when it reaches that part of its growth cycle true to its name. In spring, this tree's common occurrence is evident.
Our redbud is Cercis canadensis, also called Salad Tree, and occurs in a range extending from Florida to Texas, north to southern Connecticut, into western New York, Pennsylvania and southern Ontario, west to south Wisconsin and Nebraska.
Eleven species are recognized in the genus Cercis of the Pea Family (Leguminosae or Fabaceae). Four species are indigenous to North America; six are found in southwestern, central, and East Asia, and one is native to southern Europe.
The generic name Cercis derives from the Greek name for the tree, coming from the supposed resemblance of the seedpods to a weaver's shuttle. Plant names, being what they are, often tend to be nonsensical. If I had to vote for one appropriate name for the tree, Salad Tree would be my ultimate choice.
Flowers of the "salad tree" have a flavor similar to the first sweet young peas of the season, often accompanied by a subtle tartness, subdued by a hint of sweet nectar. Nothing beats these early blooms for an explosion of color in salads.
The buds, flowers and young green fruits can also be fried in a little butter or in batter as a tasty woodland morsel. A little imagination will stretch this lovely native ornamental tree into the realm of haute cuisine.
As an ornamental tree there is no doubt of redbud's value, but couple that with the edibility of the colorful spring blooms and you have a tree not only excellent for landscaping, but perhaps deserving of a spot in the vegetable garden, too.
Steven Foster is a world renowned botanical photographer. He has published many books, including 2 for National Geographic
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