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What is Cercis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2018
    Conjecture Corporation
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Cercis is a small genus of shrubs and trees found in temperate areas of the world, with around 10 species in this genus. Also known as redbuds, members of this genus are cultivated ornamentally for their visually appealing flowers and in several cases, the flowers are also edible, and can be used in salads and herbal tisanes. Nurseries located in temperate climates often carry redbud seedlings and can order them by special request from customers interested in cultivating a Cercis tree or shrub.

These plants vary in size from small shrubs to medium trees. In the spring, they produce profusions of pinkish to magenta flowers in tight clusters that develop directly from the main stem of the plant, a trait known to botanists as cauliflory. The flowers appear before the leaves, while the wood of the tree is still bare. Eventually, they will mature into long pods, betraying this plant's taxonomical place in the pea family. When the foliage emerges, it can be heart-shaped to rounded and is bright, glossy green, turning bronze to red in the autumn before falling off.

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Members of this genus are very appealing to butterflies and some birds. The flowering of the Cercis trees in some regions is a sign of spring, as they tend to bud out early in the year. Standalone trees can make striking specimen plantings in the garden, and gardeners can also establish rows or clumps of trees for a bright patch of color. Cercis does not require heavy pruning and should retain a natural vase-like shape as it grows.

Gardeners will need to select an area of the garden with full sun to partial shade for a Cercis plant. The soil should be rich and worked with organic material if it is dry or coarse. Redbuds prefer moist, well-drained soil, although they can tolerate other types of soil conditions. It is advisable to keep them out of soggy soil and standing water, as this can cause rot of the roots and trunk.

Young plants tend to be more sensitive to cold weather while they are getting established, while older trees can handle very cold conditions. Redbuds can be found in far northern regions, illustrating their tolerance for harsh winters. People living in areas where temperatures drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit (approximately 6.6 degrees Celsius) in the winter should plan on covering their young Cercis species when cold is in the forecast to protect them from frost damage.

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