After a drab winter, the Western Redbud seems to enthusiastically
proclaim that spring has indeed arrived! So it must have seemed to
Edward Stuhl as he hiked the lower slopes of Mount Shasta and found
this lovely specimen. Siskiyou County is the northern limit of this
species I California where it dots the banks of streams, the rocky
benches in the foothills, and the chaparral below the elevation of
4,500 feet. Southward, it extends to the San Francisco Bay Area and
Yosemite as well as the foothills east of San Diego.
The spectacular profusion of pea-like, pink flowers occurs
in bunches along the stems and even on the trunks of the older branches.
The flowers each have a drop of nectar and can be eaten fresh or pickled.
A number of innovative cooks incorporate the colorful and zesty flowers
in salads. Depending o the temperature in the fall, the leaves of
the Western Redbud turn either a striking scarlet, or if the weather
is quite cool. Turn shades of yellow and orange.
As the flowers shrivel and drop, shiny pea pods are revealed
which hang in thick bunches among the new, round-shaped leaves. The
reddish pods gradually turn brown and stay on the branch until the
following spring. Each pod contains several flat, rounded seeds that
are so hard they can survive for dozens of years! Natural germination
requires the scratching of the tough seedcoat by boulders during a
flood or exposure to fire. In Greece and Turkey the sour tasting young
pods are prized in salads and stir fry dishes.
The California Indians commonly used carefully prepared branches
in their colorful and exquisite baskets. Weavers would burn or cut
plants back to the ground in the fall and harvest the long, straight
shoots the next year. Using flints, teeth, and fingernails, the branches
were split several times to produce flexible strands or threads. Redbud
bark was used for red patterns and the wood itself was incorporated
for a chalky white color.
The Western Redbud is available commercially. Gardeners are
encouraged to plant them in coarse, well-drained soil. Once the plant
is established leave them dry or give only an occasional soaking as
the Western Redbud will not do well with "wet feet"!
Redwood Penstemon &
(*currently for sale)
through the wildflowers
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Last updated: 05/07/02