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 in 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"!
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Last updated: 05/06/02