I love Redbud trees! As one of the first trees to awake from winter’s deep sleep, their bright violet pink flowers signal that the seasons are changing. They are full of the promises of warmer days ahead, abundant sunshine, and rebirth.
I have two Redbuds in my front yard. One is young, a replacement for the old Redbud tree that was uprooted during the 2011 tornado that ripped through Joplin. The other Redbud survived the tornado, but not without injuries that resulted in twisted and cracked limbs, loss of bark and a thinning of the leaves in her glorious crown. I am relieved when this courageous tree buds each spring.
Did you know that, like the Dogwood Tree, the Redbud has a legend associated with it?
According to the ancient story, the Mediterranean Redbud was once a tall, stately tree with white flowers that appeared each spring. Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, chose a Redbud to hang himself from, ending his life. The legend goes that the Redbud felt such shame over what was done, that its white flowers blushed pink, and it became a small tree with crooked branches that could not bear, ever again, the weight of someone hanging from it.
I came home this afternoon, after spending time with my grandson Dayan, who is in town, briefly, on spring break. We talked about my Redbud today, and how amazing her survival was during the violent storm. So I was thinking of the tree as I arrived home. In spite of a steady downpour of rain, I moved to stand beside Redbud. This tree bears its scars, without shame. She is beautiful, even with her twisted limbs.
As I patted a rough branch, I noticed the trunk and limbs were thickly covered with patches of green and gray. Under overcast skies, the damp lichen appeared to glow.
Concerned, I did some research. Lichen is not a moss. It is a composed of two or more different organisms that coexist in a symbiotic relationship. The organisms are a fungus, green algae and a bacterium. The fungus provides support, pulling moisture and minerals from the air, and the algae and/or bacterium make the food by way of photosynthesis. Tree bark is not a food source. It is simply the lichen’s resting place. Lichen grows on many types of surfaces, including slow growing trees.
It’s not necessarily bad that Redbud has lichen covering it. However, it can be a sign that the tree is in distress. Because lichen needs adequate sunlight to survive, it appears on trees that are losing leaves, like my tree. And if she continues to lose leaves, my Redbud will not survive. It is possible that the lichen took up residence on this tree during the winter, when the tree was bare. My other Redbud does not have lichen though.
What story is Redbud telling now? I will watch and see. I circled the tree today and looked for other signs of failing health. There seems to be fewer pink buds every year, since the tornado, but it’s too soon to tell if the thinning of her crown is continuing.
My favorite picture with Redbud was taken last May, when I climbed up into her branches. That feat represented my improving health. I went from walking painfully with a cane, to being cane and pain free and able to climb. The tree supported me that day, sheltered me in her leafy arms. I love this tree. And whatever happens to Redbud, I will not forget what this tree withstood and what she represented to me. I’ll collect seeds from Redbud this year and save them for the day when she is no more. A new tree will spring up and take her place…and Redbud’s story will continue.