Perspectives Online

New redbuds available beginning next spring

Three unusual new types of redbud tree developed by a North Carolina State University plant breeder should be available at plant and garden centers over the next several years.

New redbuds called Ruby Falls and Merlot should be available for the first time in the spring of 2011, said Dr. Dennis Werner, J.C. Raulston Distinguished Professor of horticultural science and a plant breeder in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, while a third new redbud called Whitewater should be available for the first time in the spring of 2012.

Werner said Ruby Falls is the first redbud with purple leaves and a weeping form, while Merlot also has purple leaves but its form is vase-shaped. Merlot is similar to a type of redbud called Forest Pansy; however, Merlot trees tend to be shorter than Forest Pansy trees and are more compact, with denser branches.

Merlot also should be more drought- and heat-tolerant than Forest Pansy, Werner said, explaining that Merlot is a hybrid of two wild redbuds, the eastern redbud and the Texas redbud. Texas redbuds tend to be more heat- and drought- tolerant and have smaller, glossy leaves. Merlot has these traits, with leaves that are thick and glossy and tend to hold up well during the heat of southern summers.

Werner said stocks of both Ruby Falls and Merlot are being produced now at propagation nurseries in Tennessee, Oklahoma and Oregon. The first trees should be in garden centers in limited numbers in the spring of 2011 and in greater numbers in the spring of 2012. The two new redbuds are also being propagated in Israel for sale in Europe.

Werner added that the nursery industry has “responded very positively” to both new redbuds, and they may become popular landscape plants.

About a year behind Ruby Falls and Merlot in propagation is Whitewater, a redbud with a weeping habit and unusual variegated leaves. 
-- Dave Caldwell