The eastern redbud was officially adopted as the state tree of Oklahoma in 1937, and is valued for its bright, pinkish-red flowers that bloom at the first sign of spring. The small tree, known by its scientific name as Cercis canadensis, grows wild on slopes and valleys throughout the state. Eastern redbud serves as an ornamental tree or shrub to decorate residential landscape and line city streets.
Adoption of the state tree of Oklahoma sparked controversy. Just as the governor prepared to sign documents making redbud the state tree of Oklahoma, he received a telegram objecting to the action from the president of the national women’s club. She deemed redbud inappropriate, claiming it represented the tree used by Judas Iscariot to commit suicide by hanging after he betrayed Jesus Christ. The controversy led to national news reports and stalled naming a state tree of Oklahoma. It was eventually settled when an Israeli native living in Oklahoma City declared the eastern redbud different from the species found in the Mediterranean known as the Judas tree.
The state tree of Oklahoma also grows in parts of the eastern United States, including Texas and Kansas. It flourishes on a short trunk and produces flowers ranging from pale pink to reddish-purple. The blooms appear as early as March, when other plants remain dormant, sprouting from the trunk and spindly twigs before leaves develop. Honeybees, the state insect, cross-pollinate the tree after flowers emerge.
Most parts of the state tree of Oklahoma are edible. The flowers can be added to salads, pancake batter, or pickle relish to add a nutty taste. Seed pods, which are red to brown in color, develop in the fall and winter. They are similar in taste and texture to peas and best eaten before they dry out. Some cooks add butter to the seeds to enhance the flavor.
Native Americans used the root of the redbud to create decorative dye, while the bark served as a cure for diarrhea. The bark is smooth and grayish in young trees, but becomes scaly and rough in older trees. Brown or maroon patches often appear on the bark of older redbud trees.
The redbud grows well in most soil, including areas with limestone-rich dirt. Once a sapling is established, a long taproot takes hold. The state tree of Oklahoma might be found in forests under larger trees because it tolerates shade well. It is considered a hearty plant resistant to pests and disease.