Cercis siliquastrum, zone 3 / zone 4

This year, to mark the equinox, I planted a tree. The timing’s a bit coincidental, it’s taken me over a year to source this tree and we finally got it on Saturday. But I celebrated by planting it anyhow. It’s a Judas tree, a Cercis siliquastrum.

Judas tree pink flowers growing directly from thin branches, new heart-shaped leaves in foreground.

The edible flowers of the Judas tree grow straight out of the bark on bare branches in spring. Leafburst follows soon after.

I spent a long time choosing trees for the forest canopy of the drylands food forest. This is one of the secondary trees. It’s native to the Middle East like the other trees I’ve planted, it’s deciduous for winter light, and leguminous/non-sclerophyllous for swifter soil replenishment. The secondary trees are all productive in some way suited to harsh climates and neglect, and the Cercis‘s trick is to have edible flowers in spring. No soft fruit trying to survive summer heatwaves, just clusters of small, sweet/acid, pink flowers running up and down bare trunks and branches as the sun begins to brighten the year. And then it leafs out and gives shade.

The Cercis is also a smaller tree, to suit the space I’ve placed it in. It’s comparatively close to the boundary, and its bed is right next to that of the Tecoma that was here when I arrived. The Tecoma is NNW of the Cercis, it gives permanent dappled shade, and the dividing line between the beds follows the Tecoma‘s shadow across the midday hours on the day of the equinox. Then on the neighbours’ side of the fence you have a very tall palm, which will give the Cercis a slight amount of relief from summer late-afternoon sun, and a perhaps 8-year-old “midnight beauty” type peppermint tree which will also give permanent heavy shade as it ages and grows. The Cercis will look stunning in front of the peppermint’s dark purple leaves, but the shade from it and the Tecoma is a factor. Because of that, I made the decision to purchase a more advanced tree – one as tall as could fit in our Yaris. I’ve been cautious about buying older trees. I have the time in this garden to let things grow. And trees-that-become-large become less large if they stay root-confined too many of their young years. An instantly large tree is nice, but if their roots are only 15 cm deep (as the Cercis‘ turned out to be) then they have a long way to go to reach the aquifer and it won’t happen this summer even if I had managed to plant it six months ago in autumn like I’d planned. I want trees that will grow into their spaces both above and below ground. I think the Cercis is tough enough for it though, and I needed a tree that would be able to compete for light next spring, not in three springs’ time. So the tree size was a compromise.

Young two-metre-high tree with a scattering of new leaves in a bed of freshly dug and messy soil, a project still in progress

The tree is planted but the soil in the bed around it is still being reconstructed. Palm tree to left, midnight peppermint behind, Tecoma overhanging top right. The Tecoma bed is the straw-covered area.

The other aspect of its placement is that it’s on the boundary between zone 3 and zone 4. Zone 4 is drylands, unirrigated. Zone 3 however is watered. My intent is to hook the Tecoma bed in zone 3 up to greywater so that it receives some water semi-regularly through summer. The Cercis will be at the end of the line. And while it’s quite drought-tolerant, all the Cercis species are riverine and appreciate summer moisture as well as some shared canopy. It makes for a good boundary species.

I’m already pleased to have it planted. The other name for many of the Cercis species is “redbud”, and they really are pretty. My mother has fond memories of the Californian redbuds from her highschool years. My father once planted a Cercis on our farm, at least that’s what I think it was. I’d forgotten he had until seeing this one. I’d forgotten it because he planted it in the turning area of the driveway, which meant every time the goats got out of the lower paddock and headed for the avocado orchard it would be their half-way snack. And if they missed eating it to the ground for some reason there was always a visitor or two to run it over. So I don’t think I ever saw it more than a foot high. The older version is quite delightful, and I’m pleased to have it in the garden. It will mark the coming of spring rather beautifully.

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3 Responses to Cercis siliquastrum, zone 3 / zone 4

  1. I love this tree… I am instantly going to see if I can find one for my plantings next year (spring equinox practically stops my planting for the year if I want anything to survive). Thank you for introducing it to me!

    • tikiwanderer says:

      It’s a beautiful tree 🙂 Just keep an eye out – there are a lot of Cercis around, including developed varieties of at least three species. The most common seems to be the Forest Pansy which is a variety of the canadensis species, native to the eastern US seaboard. I chose not to use that one because it’s native to a climate like Sydney’s where the siliquastrum is native to a climate like Perth’s. Which of the species best suits you and your place for it you’ll have to research and decide 🙂

  2. Pingback: The redbud bed, and zone 3B | AgriTapestry

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