Spring Jewel: The Eastern Redbud

Spring has officially arrived in central Virginia! Our native Eastern Redbud trees (Cercis Canadensis) have awakened from their winter slumber and are in full bloom. Redbuds reach their flowering peak when most shade trees are just beginning to leaf-out, so this time of year their brilliant sprays of pink jump out at you along the highways and back roads. The flowers almost glow against the lime green shade of new deciduous leaves and the dark green tones of neighboring evergreens.

Redbud trees peeking out from the woods

Redbud trees peeking out from the woods

The Eastern Redbud is native to the Blue Ridge and much of the Eastern U.S. Growing in moist, well-drained soils, frequently along woodland edges, they can reach 20 to 30 feet and six to 10 inches in diameter. In early spring, before the leaves form, bright pink to purple flowers, one-half inch long, appear in clusters along the twigs and small branches.

Eastern Redbud
A couple of weeks later, tiny leaves appear at the tips of the branches, signaling the end of the flower show. The dark green leaves are large and heart-shaped. Once the tree has leafed-out and the flowers have faded, large brown seed pods, two to four inches in length, will form. The seeds inside, which are brown and about a quarter of an inch long, will be mature before the end of summer and can be planted in the fall. Any seed with a hard outer coating like the redbud will need to be scarified (sanded or nicked) so water will reach the seed to cause germination.

Due to their manageable size, redbuds are a popular landscaping tree. As a member of the legume family, redbud roots are able to convert nitrogen from the air into a form plants can use, so this tree can grow in poor soil and can actually improve the soil in which it grows.

I was amazed when I looked at the date of the first picture in this post. It was taken on March 24, 2012, a full three weeks earlier than the second picture taken on April 15, 2013! I knew winter was slow to arrive in Virginia – this confirms just how slow.

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In Search of Spring

Although our winter here in the Blue Ridge has actually been pretty mild, I find myself longing to see green fields and hillsides once again. With only a few weeks of winter remaining, I set out to look for signs that winter is loosening its grip on the land and giving way to the season of renewal. My last walk was several days ago and I was amazed at how much the landscape had changed.

The growing moss pays no heed to the frigid temps of the water

The growing moss pays no heed to the frigid temps of South Buffalo Creek

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Another type of moss growing up through the leaves

Immature cones forming on terminal ends of Virginia Pine

Immature cones forming on Virginia Pine

Still another kind of moss

Still another kind of moss

The birds are also giving clues that spring is on its way. The Eastern Phoebes can be heard issuing their phoebe, phoebe calls as they check out our porch rafters for the choicest nest sites. I’m also seeing the Eastern Bluebirds once again that had retreated to lower elevations to escape the worst of winter, and a Northern Mockingbird pair is busy chasing intruders out of their favorite tangle of vines.

Although the nights are cold, it’s the breeding season for many animals. Last night, my husband and I were awakened by the shrill cries of a fox in the front yard. The cries, a little higher-pitched than a coyote, went on for about a minute. My first thought was of the chickens, but I knew they were safely locked up in the coop. Possibly, the fox was calling to attract a mate. 

The lengthening of the days is obvious to our hens, who have started laying again, so it’s just a matter of time until winter blows its last gasp. I just need to be patient.

There is a way that Nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story. — Linda Hogan