Most gardeners are familiar with the Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis, with its stunning magenta flowers that bloom on bare wood in early spring. It has some interesting relatives like Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ and ‘Merlot’ with their purplish leaves, ‘Little Woody’ with its dwarf form and crinkly foliage, ‘Hearts of Gold’ with its yellow leaves, and the weeping ‘Covey’ that’s also known as ‘Lavender Twist.’ It seems there’s a redbud out there for each person’s taste.
One growing misconception I’ve come across in Seattle is that this tree likes to bake in full, hot sun. It’s true that the Eastern Redbud is a tough native from the lower Midwest, hardy down to Zone 5, but I’ve found that most Eastern Redbuds appreciate a little afternoon shade. This can sometimes be limiting if you want a compact tree for a parking strip or city backyard.
Enter Cercis canadensis var. texensis ‘Oklahoma.’ This redbud still gets gorgeous magenta flowers on bare branches in spring and like other Eastern Redbuds, its form is on the smaller side, but unlike other Eastern Redbuds, ‘Oklahoma’ has highly glossy, highly rounded leaves that are a beaming green. This coating must give the tree its extra toughness, because I’ve grown two of these lovely trees in hot sun and they haven’t missed a beat. One still grows on a parking strip where I watered rarely in summer. It never wilted or lost older foliage. The other grows beside my driveway, in the sunniest location of my yard. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve watered these trees during their first spring and summers on hot days. But once it’s established, ‘Oklahoma’ takes care of itself. It needs pruning rarely, growing in a tight, almost lollipop kind of shape, and is very disease-resistant. Plus, the fall color is stunning! A bright yellow that pairs well with Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Mariesii’ or Rhus typhina ‘Tiger Eyes,’ or Itea virginica. It doesn’t like wet soil but it loves the rain we have in Seattle. If you have a well-draining area in your yard, try planting this under appreciated tree. It deserves to be in the spotlight.