The Cercis tree, commonly known as the Redbud or Judas tree, is part of the Caesalpiniaceae family and is made up of 7 different varieties. The name Cercis comes from the Greek kerkis meaning ‘shuttle’, which refers to the shape of the flat seedpods that decorate the branches in autumn and resemble a weaver’s shuttle tool.
Cercis trees are deciduous with a small and bushy habit and in the spring, displays clusters of small, bright flowers on bare branches before blue-green, heart-shaped leaves appear. This is followed by long, dark coloured seed pods that hang from the foliage as it bursts with warm, autumn colours later in the year. The flowers of Judas trees are popular with bees for the large amount of nectar available.
Cercis siliquastrum, a variety of Cercis, is commonly known as the 'Judas tree', due to the long-standing myth that Judas Iscariot (one of Jesus’ twelve apostles), hanged himself from a Redbud tree. Fitting with this myth, the flowers and seedpods are believed to hang down from the branches imitating Judas' suicide. The deep pink flowers that appear on Cercis siliquastrum in the spring are said to blush pink in shame because of the suicide. Following this, it is also said that if you stand under a Judas tree and tell a lie, you will drop down dead!
Another interpretation of the name ‘Judas tree’ stems from the French common name, Arbre de Judée, which means tree of Judea, referring to the hilly regions of that country where this variety of tree used to be common.
The Redbud tree species can tolerate both sheltered and exposed positions and prefers deep, well-drained soils in a full sun or partially shaded position. The Cercis tree has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit and will make a wonderful feature tree in any sized garden. For further information on planting a Judas tree, visit our help and advice page or take a look at our planting essentials to help get you started.