Redbud Rapture

“You should write a column about the redbuds,” a friend told me.  She and her husband had just driven up the mountain to Monterey on I-40 and come back down on Hwy 70.  “They’re breathtaking this year.  Prettier than I can ever remember.”

I’ve been fairly awestruck myself by our even-more-gorgeous-than-usual spring.  But I wasn’t sure I could get a 600-word column out of it, especially if I confined myself to writing only about redbuds.

Even though they’re my favorite flowering tree in the whole wide world.  I love them more than cherry trees.  More than crabapples.  Or  magnolias or ornamental plums.  Heck, I love redbud trees even better than dogwoods.  And that’s saying something.  While most of the hardwood trees are still bare and just a hint of pale green is showing on others, the redbuds scattered amongst them burst into bloom in a color so delicate and lovely that it’s hard to believe it’s real.

If you looked up “delight for the eye” in the dictionary, I bet there’d be a picture
of a redbud tree there.

And I’m confident that nowhere are they more spectacular that at our very own Burgess Falls State Park.  I know this because I made a special trip there last week, partly because I wanted to see how big the water was.  Bigger than I imagined.  The river was way up, extra-swift and very muddy.  The falls were roaring.  I didn’t get soaked on the caged metal staircase that descends next to the Upper Falls, but I got “misted” enough to render my sunglasses useless.   Which felt pretty darn good on an 80 degree March morning.

But mostly I went to see the redbuds.  As expected, they were in full bloom.   Dozens of human-planted ones fringed the parking lot and adorned the playground area.  Nice.  But even better were the bird-planted redbuds, growing—impossibly it would seem—out of the sheer cliffs beside the river.

To find out more about redbuds, I called my friend and neighbor Alan Carter, tree expert extraordinaire and owner of Cherry Creek Nursery.  He took me on a fascinating up-close-and-personal tour of his flowering stock, from Althea to Zelkova.  He explained the difference between an Okame cherry tree and a wild cherry tree.  He showed me four different kinds of magnolia.  He talked about how breeding has helped crabapples evolve from trash trees to desirable trees and described how to turn a serviceberry bush into a tree.

Then he took me down Redbud Row.  Oh my goodness.  Dozens upon dozens of redbud trees, all in full bloom.  Surprisingly, not all the flowers were lavender.  Those belonging to the Eastern redbud, the most common species in Tennessee and almost always the ones we see growing alongside the road, are.

But Alan also cultivates “Oklahoma redbud,” whose flowers are a much deeper purple (and fittingly name since the redbud is the state tree of Oklahoma) and “Appalachian redbud,” with its fuchsia red blossoms.  And then there’s the gorgeous forest pansy redbud, my hands-down favorite.

Seeing all that beauty in one place was almost enough to make me wax poetic.  If only I knew how to go beyond “I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.”  I don’t.  But I know somebody who does and I’ll tell you about her in next week’s column.

As for this one, it turns out that I was able to write 600 words about redbuds after all.  Six hundred and two, to be exact.  Not counting the headline.

(March 25, 2012)





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