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Redbuds Populated the Earth from Pangea Days

By Maureen gilmer
In Asia it is called "Bauhinia," or the Hong Kong orchid tree. In southern Africa it grows in such numbers they are referred to as "Colophospermum mopane" forests. In America, redbuds are found from coast to coast. All three of these exquisite small trees share their ancestry in the Leguminosae or pea family. It is most evident in the pea-like pods that carry their seed.
How can three nearly identical trees exist independently on such vastly different continents?
Do they share a common primordial ancestor?
About 200 million years ago, Earth was just one enormous continent scientists named Pangea, which translates to "all earth." Perhaps these three trees share a single parent genus that shaded that land and, after Pangea separated into different continents, the fractured tree populations evolved independently of one another.
Look at them closely and you'll see the most visible link is in the leaves often described as butterfly-shaped. All tend to prefer poor soils with limited fertility. This is in part because as pea family members were given a unique ability to harness atmospheric nitrogen when it is absent in the soil.
Of these three different genera, the native redbuds, genus "Cercis," are our own legacy of Pangea. They can be found wild all across America represented by a few primary species. In the eastern states "Cercis Canadensis" is the native most widely cultivated and hardy to Zone 5. Texas redbuds are "Cercis Canadensis var. texensis." The Oklahoma redbuds, noted for greater drought resistance and redder flowers, are forms of "Cercis reniformis," but may be sold as "Canadensis" cultivars. The western redbud is "Cercis occidentalis," found west of the Rockies. All of these make exceptional landscape trees that are not only beautiful, but as natives they are our most sensible choices.
The redbuds are as close to a four-season accent tree as you can get. They are so named for their very early spring flowers that bloom before most other plants in the wild. Their showing of color is so early that the Kiowa called them: "drive winter out." Redbuds bloom so prolifically on bare branches that they rival the flowering cherries in some years. Flower color is a bold magenta pink, but varieties 'Alba' and 'Texis White' bloom pale. Read more about red buds.

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