Cercis, or Redbuds, is a genus of about 6-10 species in the subfamily Caesalpinioideae of the pea family Fabaceae, native to warm-temperate regions. They are small deciduous trees or large shrubs, characterised by simple, rounded to heart-shaped leaves and pinkish-red flowers borne in the early spring on bare leafless shoots.
A full list of species in the genus is:
Judas-tree (Cercis siliquastrum) is a small tree to 10-15 m tall native to the south of Europe and southwest Asia, in Iberia, southern France, Italy, Greece and Asia Minor, which forms a handsome low tree with a flat spreading head. In early spring it is covered with a profusion of magenta pink flowers, which appear before the leaves. The flowers have an agreeably acidic bite, and are eaten in mixed salad or made into fritters. The tree was frequently figured in the 16th and 17th century herbals.
This small, sparsely branched tree is said to be the one from which Judas Iscariot hanged himself after betraying Christ, but the name may derive from "Judea's tree", after the region encompassing Israel and Palestine where the tree is commonplace.
A smaller Eastern American woodland understory tree, Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis, is common from southernmost Canada to piedmont Alabama and East Texas. It differs from C. siliquastrum in its pointed leaves and slightly smaller size (rarely over 12 m tall). The flowers are also used in salads and for making pickled relish, while the inner bark of twigs gives a mustard-yellow dye.
The related Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis, ranges from California east to Utah primarily in foothill regions. Its leaves are more rounded at the tip than the relatively heart-shaped leaves of the Eastern redbud. The tree often forms multi-trunked colonies that are covered in bright pink flowers in early spring (February - March). White-flowered variants are in cultivation. It buds only once a year.