At first glance Cercis occidentalis can be confused for a famous cherry blossom tree, with its branches adorned in vivid pink flowers. But the western redbud’s blooms, (as it is more commonly known) are quite different.
For starters, the western redbud is not a fruit bearing tree. Its blooms are a dark pink to magenta shade and are shaped similarly to the sweat pea flower. The flowers can be admired during the months of February through April. They are irresistible to hummingbirds and other small winged pollinators. Its heart-shaped and vibrantly green leaves are also a striking display during both spring and autumn months. As a deciduous plant, the foliage turns from yellow to red and brown during the autumn season. When the leaves fall they reveal maroon seed pods, once flower clusters now transformed. The seed pods resemble a flat legume, like the snow pea.
The western redbud grows as a large shrub or can be cultivated into a small tree, growing from 7 to 20 feet tall. Native to California and other western states like Utah and Arizona, it is a thrifty water-user and thrives in dry climates. Although they can survive on natural rainfall, a deep watering once a month during the dry summer and early autumn months is recommended. Once established, it can also survive temperatures as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit. This hardy plant can tolerate a variety of soils, but does best in well drained soil.
For a beautiful display of the western redbud in bloom during March, you can drive along Highway 101 towards wine country in Sonoma and northern California.