On a recent trip to Redding CA from our home in Lookout CA, I was reminded of how altitude influences the flora and fauna. We live at 4,200 feet and one hundred miles away Redding is about 500 feet in altitude. Early blooming Western redbuds were still in bud where we live, yet were in full bloom closer to Redding.
The Western redbud (Cercis occidentalis), native to California, Nevada and Utah, is a deciduous shrub or small tree that grows between 10 and 18 feet in height and belongs to the legume, or pea, family. It is found mainly in the foothills of California below 4,000 feet.
In early spring the plant takes on a purplish hue as buds form on the bare twigs and even on the trunk. Shortly afterward the tree bursts into a riot of color as the sweet-pea-shaped flowers open before the leaves appear. At first the heart-shaped leaves are a coppery color, later becoming shiny green. Newly formed seed pods are a dull red and contrast with the green leaves throughout the summer. With the fall frosts the leaves turn yellow or bright red. The reddish seed pods (legumes) remain on the branches throughout the winter.
Redbuds are grown commercially for use as ornamentals. Otherwise I am unaware of any other use for this shrub. The Western redbud is beautiful and provides interest throughout seasons. It requires no other “use”.
The picture of the buds and legumes was taken along Highway 299E (about 4,000 feet) while the redbuds in full bloom were photographed along the same road on the same day at an elevation of about 2,000 feet (near Round Mountain CA). The influence of altitude is readily visible in the flower development.