Cercis chinensis – Chinese Redbud

Kay's Early Hope photo courtesy of JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University

Kay’s Early Hope photo courtesy of JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University

Ornamental redbud trees are some of the favorite trees for the landscape as well as some of the first plants to show color in early spring.  Our native Eastern Redbud, cercis canadensis, is most commonly grown.  It’s relative, cercis chinensis, the Chinese Redbud is less famous – unfortunately so!

The trees are very similar but the Chinese redbuds tend to be multi-stemmed and blooms tend to be larger and more prolific.  In Spring, plants seem to be covered in blooms all the way to the ground for a profuse display of a purple-pink vase in the garden.  In their native Asian habitat, Chinese redbud can grow up to 50 feet tall but in our piedmont region plants are likely to reach just 12 – 15 feet tall.  Chinese redbuds also feature glossy leaves in contrast to the matte texture of most Eastern redbuds.  In fall leaves turn yellow.  Trees also feature attractive seed pods similar to snow peas.

One of our favorite Chinese redbuds is ‘Kay’s Early Hope’, a cultivar introduced by the JC Raulston Arboretum right here in Raleigh.  Notably, one has been growing on the JCRA grounds for nearly 20 years.  ‘Kay’s Early Hope’ is unique in its exceptionally long bloom period.  The arboretum reports it as being one of the first redbuds to flower with flowers continuing well after leaves emerge for a bloom time from 6-8 weeks.  The volume of flowers on ‘Kay’s Early Hope’ from top to bottom is an exquisite display.  Heart shaped leaves perform well in our North Carolina heat and humidity.   Grow in full sun to part shade.  This redbud was named after Kay Yow, NC State women’s basketball coach.