A scrawny tree’s spring surprise

It’s fall here in Rio de Janeiro, but since my friends in the USA are now enjoying spring, I thought I’d share this article I wrote a few years back:


I RENTED THE APARTMENT sight unseen, through an ad on craigslist. It had a DECK — what else did I need to know?

What I didn’t know, though, was that the scraggly tree hanging over the deck that I’d seen in the online photos was to provide me with endless fascination during the six months I ended up living in that apartment.

I arrived the beginning of April, and the tree was bare and not very impressive looking, with its scrawny, elbowy branches. But, I thought, in summer there would be leaves, and that would be….well….green. And nice.

What I didn’t know was that in early spring the tree would sprout dark red little buds that would suddenly burst into a symphony of tiny pink-magenta flowers, dazzling the eye and turning my deck into a splash of madcap cotton candy. Too bad it was still too chilly to actually sit out there and bask in its royal rosiness. But I would open the window every day instead, stick my head out, and as the temperature gradually warmed up I took pictures of it — lots and lots of pictures.

I knew it wasn’t a cherry tree or a magnolia or a dogwood — my scanty knowledge of dendrology (the study of trees) told me that much. But what was it? By the time I got around to Googling it, I had more information — breathtaking, weird, wonderful information.

Just as my pink tree was at its fullest and most magnificent, it wowed me with yet another miracle. From one day to the next, it suddenly sprouted little bunches of pink flowers all over its trunk and biggest branches! They looked like decorations on a wedding cake. I had never, ever — even after living in Brazil for nearly a decade and seeing some super exotic flora — seen flowers growing out of a tree trunk, and I was flabbergasted. Out came the camera again, and I shot the amazing and freaky phenomenon from every angle.

Now I had some ammo for my Google search. I typed in “pink tree flowers trunk” and up came the name of my tree: Redbud. Wikipedia told me that the Eastern Redbud is Oklahoma’s state tree and can be found on the east coast from Canada to northern Florida (mine was a Bostonian). It said that not all Redbuds have flower clusters growing from the trunk, which I decided made mine special. I also learned that the green twigs from the tree were once used in southern Appalachia for seasoning wild game and this is why it was known as the “spicewood” tree — and sometimes still is. Not being much of a wild game eater, I never tried the twigs.

Eventually the pink flowers dropped off, making a sticky mess on my deck. The trunk clusters were the last to go, but by that time little green leaves had started to appear at the tips of the branches, and by June the tree was completely covered with flat, dark green papery leaves, providing welcome shade for the humid Boston summer. I wouldn’t stay long enough to see them turn color and drop off so I could witness this amazing cycle again, but I’m glad I captured the whole thing with my digital camera. Now I carry my special Redbud with me wherever I go…in my laptop.

(From The Christian Science Monitor’s Home Forum Page, March 5, 2009)



Filed under writing

8 responses to “A scrawny tree’s spring surprise

  1. Jess L.

    I had a similar tree. When it dropped it’s blooms, it completely littered the deck with disintegrating flowers. It was a huge tree and deck, and removing the debrisand stains each year was next to impossible. We called it the messy tree but loved the flowers and the shade. After about 25 years, though, I couldn’t stand it any more, and had it cut down and chipped for mulch. I planned to replace it, but then – I moved instead.

  2. Bonnie Dotson Parmelee

    Redbud trees are so beautiful in the spring. 🙂 It sounds like you had an especially lovely one outside your window. 🙂

  3. It’s the only one I’ve ever seen, so I’m not sure, but I certainly found it fascinating!

  4. Muriel Vasconcellos

    Redbuds are very special to me. They grew wild on my family’s place near Front Royal, Virginia — an abandoned farm between two hillsides which was their retirement haven for 25 years. In the spring the whole property and the roadsides leading to it were a mass of pink. In their honor, I planted one in front of my house in DC, which grew very fast and was quite splendid. i have some old photos which I hope to digitize before too long

  5. Libby Unwin

    The first redbud tree I ever saw was in Hot Springs, Arkansas. that was the first time I really ever experienced a southern spring. In upstate NY there is winter and July!! No spring compared to the south!!

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