Cercis orbiculata


  © Br. Alfred Brousseau, Saint Mary's College
Hauser, A. Scott. 2006. Cercis orbiculata. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ [].


Cercis occidentalis Torr. ex Gray [35,40,54,55,76]
   =Cercis orbiculata
Cercis occidentalis var. orbiculata (Greene) Tidestrom [76]
   =Cercis orbiculata


California redbud
western redbud
Arizona redbud
Judas tree

The scientific name of California redbud is Cercis orbiculata Greene (Fabaceae) [38].


No special status

Information on state-level protected status of plants in the United States is available at Plants Database.


SPECIES: Cercis orbiculata
California redbud occurs in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah [35,38,40,54,55,76]. Its occurrence in Arizona is restricted to a few scattered locations in canyons and mountains in upper desert and woodland zones. It is common in the Grand Canyon [49]. In Utah, California redbud is restricted to a few scattered locations in the southern part of the state [26]. The U.S. Geological Survey provides a distributional map of California redbud.

FRES20 Douglas-fir
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES28 Western hardwoods
FRES29 Sagebrush
FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
FRES35 Pinyon-juniper
FRES40 Desert grasslands

STATES/PROVINCES: (key to state/province abbreviations)

3 Southern Pacific Border
4 Sierra Mountains
6 Upper Basin and Range
7 Lower Basin and Range
12 Colorado Plateau

K005 Mixed conifer forest
K009 Pine-cypress forest
K010 Ponderosa shrub forest
K011 Western ponderosa forest
K026 Oregon oakwoods
K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland
K029 California mixed evergreen forest
K030 California oakwoods
K031 Oak-juniper woodland
K032 Transition between K031 and K037
K033 Chaparral
K034 Montane chaparral
K035 Coastal sagebrush
K037 Mountain-mahogany-oak scrub
K053 Grama-galleta steppe
K057 Galleta-threeawn shrubsteppe
K058 Grama-tobosa shrubsteppe

222 Black cottonwood-willow
230 Douglas-fir-western hemlock
233 Oregon white oak
235 Cottonwood-willow
237 Interior ponderosa pine
238 Western juniper
239 Pinyon-juniper
240 Arizona cypress
241 Western live oak
243 Sierra Nevada mixed conifer
245 Pacific ponderosa pine
246 California black oak
247 Jeffrey pine
248 Knobcone pine
249 Canyon live oak
250 Blue oak-foothills pine
255 California coast live oak

107 Western juniper/big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass
201 Blue oak woodland
202 Coast live oak woodland
203 Riparian woodland
204 North coastal shrub
205 Coastal sage shrub
206 Chamise chaparral
207 Scrub oak mixed chaparral
208 Ceanothus mixed chaparral
209 Montane shrubland
210 Bitterbrush
412 Juniper-pinyon woodland
413 Gambel oak
415 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany
416 True mountain-mahogany
417 Littleleaf mountain-mahogany
418 Bigtooth maple
419 Bittercherry
420 Snowbrush
502 Grama-galleta
503 Arizona chaparral
504 Juniper-pinyon pine woodland
505 Grama-tobosa shrub
509 Transition between oak-juniper woodland and mahogany-oak association

California redbud is recognized as a dominant species in this Arizona vegetation classification:

California redbud/western poison ivy (Toxicodendron rydbergii)/scarlet monkeyflower (Mimulus cardinalis) at Vasey's Paradise in the Grand Canyon [21]


SPECIES: Cercis orbiculata
  Gary A. Monroe @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
This description provides characteristics that may be relevant to fire ecology, and is not meant for identification. Keys for identification are available [35,40,54,55,76].

California redbud is a native [44], deciduous [35,44,72] shrub-tree [11,36,48,49,54,64]. It can appear as a tree with arching canopies that almost reach the ground or a considerably shorter, many-stemmed shrub [68,72]. Plants generally occur singly, but they may form thickets in riparian zones [36].

California redbud plants are commonly from 7 to 20 feet (2-5 m) tall [35,54,55,76]. The tallest California redbud on record is 29 feet (8.8 m) [11]. The stems are clustered and erect [36,54,55] and predominantly leafless [44]. During the 1st year of life, California redbud stems are covered in hairs [49]. The inflorescence is a 2- to 5-flowered raceme [35]. The flowers are 8 to 12 mm long [54,55] and appear before the leaves [20,40,76]. The seedpod is a flat legume from 2 to 4 inches (4-9 cm) long and 0.8 to 1 inch (2-2.5 cm) wide [54,55]. Each seedpod contains 7 seeds [72] from 3 to 4 mm in diameter [54,55]

California redbud is intermediately tolerant of flooding in semiarid riparian zones. Intermediately tolerant is defined as a species that "is able to survive flooding for periods between 1 to 3 months during the growing season. The root systems of these plants may produce few new roots or will be dormant during the flooded period" [75].


California redbud regenerates primarily from seed [11]. California redbud may sprout from damaged boles following fire [1].

Pollination: California redbud is pollinated by bumble bees and orchard mason bees [11,24,72].

Breeding system: The flowers of California redbud are dioecious [11].

Seed production: California redbud produces abundant crops of legumes, but seed set is variable [11].

Seed dispersal: California redbud seeds are dispersed by wind, birds, and animals [11].

Seed banking: California redbud utilizes a seed bank [23].


Germination: California redbud seeds require scarification and stratification for germination [44,48,53]. The seeds are adapted to prolonged periods of dryness and cold due to an impervious seed coat and a dormant embryo [1,34,72].

There are no field studies of California redbud seed longevity to date (2006); however, California redbud seeds remained viable for 12 years or more when stored in a freezer at 5% to 9% humidity and 0°F (-18 °C) [11].

Seedling establishment/growth: California redbud seedlings have a "rapid" growth rate [11].

Asexual regeneration: California redbud may regenerate asexually by sprouting from boles damaged by fire [1].

California redbud occurs on dry, shrubby slopes [35,39,44,54,55] and rocky plains [39], in canyons [35,39,44,54] and ravines [35,44], along streambanks [13,32,35,44] and washes [39], and in chaparral [32,35,44,54,55] and foothill woodland ecosystems [35,44,54].

In the foothills of northern California, California redbud occurs at low elevations on north-facing slopes or near seasonal water courses [18].

Climate: California redbud is light and drought tolerant [44,72]. In California chaparral sites, California redbud persists where the winters are cool and wet and the summers are hot and dry [18].

Elevation: The elevation ranges for California redbud in the 4 states where it occurs are presented in the table below:

State Elevation
Arizona 4,000 to 6,000 feet [40,49]
California 400 to 5,000 feet [35,54,55]
Nevada 2,500 to 6,200 feet [39]
Utah 2,168 to 4,053 feet [21,76]

Soil: California redbud can tolerate a wide range of soils [68,72]. In California chaparral, California redbud is found on granitic soils [32].

California redbud is found on disturbed sites such as burns [1] and is found in several stages of succession [22,29,50]. While it can withstand shade [68], more than light shading can cause a reduction in flower production [22].

At Ellis Ranch, California, California redbud occurs on "early succession" burn sites [29,50]. California redbud is an important species in the late-seral conifer forest-chaparral association of northern California [22].

Depending upon the ecosystem, California redbud flowers from February to June [11,39,72]. In more temperate sections of the California coast, California redbud tends to bloom poorly in the spring because temperatures are too warm to facilitate flower bud formation [68].

On moist California chaparral sites, California redbud leaves are normally present from April through October [18], and fruit ripening occurs from July to September [11]. While the flowering period of California redbud covers several months, individual plants only remain in flower for approximately 2 weeks [72].


SPECIES: Cercis orbiculata
Fire adaptations: California redbud establishes following fire by seed [50] and/or sprouting from the bole [1].

Fire regimes: Research literature on California redbud is primarily centered on its occurrence in California chaparral and oak woodlands. Both of these community types can have lightning-ignited fires and have long been affected by anthropogenic fire, starting with Native Americans [2,42,43]. Prior to European settlement, the western Mono, foothill Yokuts, and Miwok Native Americans of the central and southern Sierra Nevada foothills set autumn fires at intervals of 1 to several years to induce rapid elongation of young growth of California redbud (see Other Uses) [1,2,4,5,6]. They also actively burned to keep down shrubs and trees and maintain an open, park-like woodland that aided hunting and favored certain food crops [32]. Fire exclusion policies were implemented as European settlers entered the area in the late 19th century, again altering the chaparral and oak woodland communities [3,4]. With so much historical human interference in the oak woodlands and chaparral of California, gauging the historic or presettlement fire return interval in these communities is difficult and often debated. In a review by Keeley [42], evidence is offered that fire frequency in California chaparral has increased, not decreased, due to human-caused accidental fires (see Fire Management Considerations).

In oak woodlands, California redbud is often found in canyon live oak (Quercus chrysolepis), blue oak-gray pine (Q. douglasii-Pinus sabiniana), and interior live oak (Q. wislizenii) community types. The fire return interval in these communities is from <35 to <100 years [57]. The fire return interval of stand-replacement fires in California chaparral varies, depending upon species composition. In reviews, Keeley and Keeley [41,43] stated that modal frequency of stand-replacement fires in California chaparral ranges from 20 to 30 years, and Paysen and others [57] reported fire return intervals ranging from less than 35 years to about every 100 years. Relatively long fire-return intervals are typical of chaparral dominated by obligate seeding species such as waveyleaf ceanothus (Ceanothus foliosus) [51], while relatively short fire-return intervals favor spouting chaparral species such as chamise [41,43].

The following table provides fire return intervals for plant communities and ecosystems where California redbud is important. For further information, see the FEIS review of the dominant species listed below.

Community or Ecosystem Dominant Species Fire Return Interval Range (years)
California chaparral Adenostoma and/or Arctostaphylos spp. <35 to <100
sagebrush steppe Artemisia tridentata/Pseudoroegneria spicata 20-70
coastal sagebrush Artemisia californica <35 to <100
grama-galleta steppe Bouteloua gracilis-Pleuraphis jamesii <35 to <100
blue grama-tobosa prairie Bouteloua gracilis-Pleuraphis mutica <35 to <100
California montane chaparral Ceanothus and/or Arctostaphylos spp. 50-100 [57]
curlleaf mountain-mahogany* Cercocarpus ledifolius 13-1,000 [9,66]
mountain-mahogany-Gambel oak scrub Cercocarpus ledifolius-Quercus gambelii <35 to <100
Arizona cypress Cupressus arizonica <35 to 200
western juniper Juniperus occidentalis 20-70 [57]
pine-cypress forest Pinus-Cupressus spp. 9-63 [7,70,74]
pinyon-juniper Pinus-Juniperus spp. <35 [57]
Colorado pinyon Pinus edulis 10-400+ [28,31,41,57]
Jeffrey pine Pinus jeffreyi 5-30
Pacific ponderosa pine* Pinus ponderosa var. ponderosa 1-47 [8]
interior ponderosa pine* Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum 2-30 [8,10,47]
galleta-threeawn shrubsteppe Pleuraphis jamesii-Aristida purpurea <35 to <100 [57]
California mixed evergreen Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii-Lithocarpus densiflorus-Arbutus menziesii <35
California oakwoods Quercus spp. <35 [8]
oak-juniper woodland (Southwest) Quercus-Juniperus spp. <35 to <200 [57]
coast live oak Quercus agrifolia 2-75 [33]
canyon live oak Quercus chrysolepis <35 to 200
blue oak-foothills pine Quercus douglasii-P. sabiniana <35
Oregon white oak Quercus garryana <35 [8]
California black oak Quercus kelloggii 5-30 [57]
interior live oak Quercus wislizenii <35 [8]
*fire return interval varies widely; trends in variation are noted in the species review

Tall shrub, adventitious bud/root crown
Secondary colonizer (on-site or off-site seed sources)


SPECIES: Cercis orbiculata
California redbud is top-killed by fire [1].

No additional information is available on this topic.

California redbud establishes following fire by seed [50] and/or sprouting from the bole [1]. The seed is dispersed onto burned sites by wind, birds, and mammals [11]. California redbud also utilizes a seed bank [23]. As of this review (2006), there is no information on seed tolerance to fire. Seed insulated by soil is probably well protected from fire.

While there is little scientific information regarding California redbud's response to fire, Native Americans in the Sierra Nevada burned California redbud every several years, or even annually, to promote growth of young sprouts (see Other Uses) [1,2,3,4,5,6]. Further, a summer prescription fire in an interior live oak-gray pine community promoted California redbud sprouting or establishment from seed in postfire years 1, 2, and 3 [50]. This suggests that fire promotes California redbud sprouting.

With such a dearth of information regarding California redbud response to fire, further fire research is sorely needed on this plant species.

Summer prescription burning of California redbud at Ellis Ranch, California, caused significant (p<0.05) decreases in California redbud canopy cover at postfire month 2 and postfire year 1. Prior to burning, the area was "preburn prepared" by crushing brush and interior live oak with a bulldozer and selectively cutting gray pine and interior live oak for firewood. Prior to the preburn preparation during the summer of 1986, California redbud cover was 2%. Following the preburn preparation and prior to the prescription fire, California redbud significantly increased to 18% cover. The prescription burn occurred in August 1987 and vegetation sampling occurred in October 1987 (postfire month 2), November 1988 (postfire year 1), 1989 (postfire year 2), and in November 1995 (postfire year 8). Two months following the burn, there were no California redbud seedlings found on the burn site. At postfire year 1, 364 California redbud seedlings were counted on the burn site. The following table gives mean canopy cover of California redbud before the preburn preparation, after the preburn preparation, and at 4 dates following prescription burning. While it is not clear in the research literature, it is assumed that California redbud canopy cover includes sprouts and seedlings [29,50]:

Preproject 1986 Postpreparation 1987 Postfire month 2 Postfire year 1 Postfire year 2 Postfire year 8
2% 18% 0% 6% 14% 15%

The limited research presented above suggests that fire favors California redbud. However, land managers should use caution if fire is used to promote California redbud growth. While fire can be suitable for the management of California redbud, it may have unintended consequences on the plant communities where it is used. In a review, Keeley [42] recommends against prescribed burning in California chaparral. Because fire frequencies have increased, not decreased, with European settlement, populations of obligate seeding shrubs in chaparral have been reduced, and prescription burning would only exacerbate the situation. Thus, fire prevention and fire exclusion may be needed to restore native plant communities in the chaparral [42].


SPECIES: Cercis orbiculata
There is little information on the importance of California redbud to livestock and wildlife. California redbud is moderately important as fall (prior to leaf fall) and spring (April-May) browse for mule deer [11,64], but is of little to no use to domestic goats, horses, and other livestock species [11,64]. Domestic goats, domestic sheep, and cattle favor the young shoots, leaves, and seedpods [72]. California redbud is important for bees that depend upon the nectar from its flowers [72]. The only other reference to California redbud and its importance to wildlife found in the literature (2006) refers to coyotes in eastern Tehama County, California, which depend minimally on California redbud fruits [12].

Palatability/nutritional value: No information is available on this topic.

Cover value: Currently (2006) there is no literature addressing the cover value of California redbud. However, given its height [35,54,55,76] and arching canopy [68,72], it likely provides cover for a variety of mammal and bird species.

California redbud is a "good" soil stabilizer along degraded stream banks [72]. In California, it has been successfully used to revegetate roadside cuts on Mount Palomar [37] and to prevent erosion and provide cover along Tapo Canyon Creek [56].

There is 1 California redbud cultivar ('common') available [71].

California redbud is important for the western Mono, foothill Yokuts, and Miwok Native Americans of the central and southern Sierra Nevada of California. Young California redbud shoots, owing to their brilliant red color and straight, flexible structure, are used for basketry [1,2,3,4,5,6]. While not identified by name, other Native American nations also used California redbud shoots in basketry [15]. In the American Southwest, Native Americans used California redbud roots and bark as a remedy for diarrhea and dysentery [11,45]. Beyond medicinal and basketry purposes, the Navajo roasted the seedpods of California redbud in ashes and ate the seeds [19,25].

California redbud is often used as a landscaping ornamental [11,20,72].

Coppicing/Pruning: To simulate the burning of California redbud, the southern Miwok of California manage the plant by coppicing (cutting the plant to within several inches of its base) and selective pruning. California redbud responds to coppicing/pruning as it does to fire, by growing new shoots that are long, straight, and slender, making them ideal for basket-making. Coppicing/pruning generally occurs 1 full growing season prior to harvest. In the Sierra National Forest, coppicing of California redbud plants produced a significantly (p<0.05) greater number of usable branches for basket-making than plants not coppiced [1].

Insects: The red humped caterpillar is a common defoliator of California redbud plants in California [17,52,58,60,61]. The larvae of red humped caterpillars can consume an average of 0.4 inch˛ of California redbud foliage per day [52]. Bacillus thuringiensis, an insecticidal bacterium, can control red humped caterpillar larvae [17,17,58,60,61].

Bacillus thuringiensis is also an effective deterrent for the fruit tree leafroller, which causes serious leaf defoliation in California redbud plants [59].

Fungus: California redbud is highly susceptible to a fungal canker caused by Botryosphaeria ribis and B. dothidea [62,65].

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