“Imagine a tree that grows flowers right on its trunk!”
My friend looked over my shoulder at the image. “Much like that tree that grows fruit on its trunk — what was it called?”
“The Brazilian grape tree or jabuticaba,” I said. “Some similarities, I guess, as this one has multiple edible parts, too.”
“And you say it’s called the Judas tree? So beautiful.”
The Judas tree is an unusual tree, so named because it was believed Judas hung himself from one of them after he betrayed Jesus. But it’s not the name that makes it unusual. It’s the way the flower blossoms grow. The spring blossoms grow on the branches, like other flowering trees, but they also grow right out of the bark along the trunk. In the autumn, the tree’s coloring changes to a distinctive gold. And so much of this tree is edible — from salad add-ons to marinades and fried side dishes — not to mention the medicinal benefits of the bark itself.
The Cercis siliquastrum, or Judas tree, is popular for its beautiful floral display. It is a deciduous (sometimes with multiple trunks) with a rounded crown. Also known as the love tree or the Mediterranean red bud, the Judas tree is native to Judea, as well as parts of southern Europe, the eastern Mediterranean, and western Asia. It can be grown in similar tropical climates around the world, but does best in its original natural habitat. The eastern redbud is a smaller version of the Judas tree. It’s a deciduous, short-lived tree that grows in the eastern United States.
This tree is low maintenance. It grows easily and quickly in deep, well-drained soils that are moderately fertile. It prefers full sun but will also grow in part shade. Note that the best flower display will appear on a tree growing in the full sun. However, if growing in a region that experiences hot summer climates, part shade is a preferred locale. Like many spring flowers, the Judas tree needs a winter chill to produce the best flower display.
The Judas tree needs lots of space as it grows up to 25 feet tall and can span a similar width. It is definitely a show piece and will fit well in a garden border location or as a standalone.
Growing and Care
The Judas tree grows well on its own — but slowly, only about a foot a year. Pruning is not essential as the tree natural forms its own uniquely elegant shape. However, pruning can be done if needed to balance the shape or reduce the size of the tree. The best time to prune is right after the blooming period. Flowers usually grow on the stems during the previous year. Therefore, pruning as late as the autumn will potentially cut off the flower buds. Adding fertilizer at the base of the tree during its first year will promote growth and blooming. Rotted leaf mulch, garden compost, and manure should be spread at the base of the tree annually to maintain healthy growth.
The tree doesn’t transplant well, so it’s best to plant it in a location it will remain for its lifespan. Propagation is best done by seed or cuttings which should be planted in either the spring or autumn. The tree scatters its own seeds naturally. Its flattened seed pods, each one about 4 inches in length, dry to a light brown in September. The pods hang onto the tree, sometimes up to a year. Strong winds can dislodge them to scatter the flat, rounded, brown seeds.
Good growing conditions will assure that this tree can grow up to a 100 years, not that we’ll be around to witness it then, but perhaps our descendants will.
Judas Tree as a Pollinator
Its abundance of flowers makes the Judas tree a good pollinator. Carpenter bees are especially attracted to these flowers. Apparently, it requires considerable force to pierce the flower head to reach the nectar, and carpenter bees have the muscle to do so effectively.
Varieties of Judas Trees
There are several varieties of Judas trees, all identified by the color of the flowers they produce. There’s the Afghan deep purple, the ‘Alba’ (which grows white flowers); ‘Bodnant’; ‘Carnea’; ‘Fructa Rubra’; ‘Penduliflora’; ‘Rubra’ (which has a dark pink-purple flower); ‘Sterilis’; and ‘Variegata’ (among others). The ‘Bodnant’ has received some notoriety as it was named the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit.
Pests and Diseases
Like any plant, the Judas tree is susceptible to insects and predators. Leafhoppers, scale insects and psyllids are a particular problem for this tree. Diseases that affect the Judas tree include canker, coral spot, die back, Verticillium wilt, mildew, and blight. The most destructive predator are deer.
Medicinal and Culinary Uses
The Judas tree is referred to as a Palestinian medicinal tree, and justifiably so. The bark of the tree is used for headaches and as an antiseptic for diseases like the flu. The flower buds are used in medicinal teas as an anti-inflammatory. The buds are also used as anti-coagulants, as well as for diabetic and malarial treatments, and for various skin conditions. A natural thrombosis remedy, the buds can be prepared into a glycerin macerate to ease symptoms of arterial disease of the lower limbs, as well as arteriosclerosis. It counteracts water retention in heavily swollen legs.
Most of the tree is edible including the flowers (which have a sweetly acidic flavor), leaves, and the green, unripe seedpods. The flowers are considered a delicacy and are often added to salads or eaten fried. Young leaves are also added to salads. The flowers can also be preserved in a spicy marinade or jelly to accompany various meat and poultry dishes. It makes an excellent choice for a hot barbecue sauce.
Harvesting blossoms at their peak from multiple Judas trees produces the best quality teas, sauces, and jellies. The blossoms strip off easily. Once harvested, lay the blossoms on the counter. Search and remove any stems and green leaves as these will add a bitter taste to whatever concoction you are preparing. And don’t forget to look for and remove any bugs. Thoroughly, but carefully, rinse the blossoms and lay on a towel to dry. Once dry, the blossoms are ready to use however you wish: salads, fried delicacies, sauces, and jellies.
Judas Tree Jelly
3 cups prepared Judas tree blossoms
2 cups boiled water
1 ounce pectin
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon butter
Place the freshly cleaned Judas tree blossoms in a mason jar. Pour the boiled water into the jar, almost to the top and push the blossoms down into the water. The results are almost immediate as the hot water will turn a pinkish color as it soaks up the natural dye from the flowers. Seal, and let sit at room temperature overnight. The next day, prepare sterilized mason jars and lids for canning, and set aside while you prepare the jelly. Strain the cooled concoction through a fine-meshed sieve to collect the naturally dyed water. For best results, use a coffee filter so you can mash the flowers and squeeze out any excess water. Heat the dyed water to boiling. Add the lemon juice and pectin and bring to a boil again. Add the granulated sugar and butter and continue boiling for another minute, stirring constantly. Pour the hot jelly into the prepared sterilized jars, then seal, process using a canner, and enjoy at your leisure.
Other than its medicinal and culinary benefits, the Judas tree can be beneficial as an ornamental tree with its showy display of flowers from the base of the trunk to the tip of the branches. Like any other tree, it serves the environment well as an air purifier. Also, the tree is a hard wood and has an attractive grain, which makes it a popular choice for furniture.
With so many unique qualities and a legend to verify its special nature, the Judas tree is, understandably, a protected species in Israel.
Today’s post is brought to you by award-winning author and artist, Emily-Jane Hills Orford http://emilyjanebooks.ca When this author isn’t writing, creating collage paintings, working on her needlework, or composing, you’ll find her in the garden. Even in the winter, gardening is not far from her thoughts as she plans and prepares for the next season and growing adventure. Using pressed flowers from her garden, this author/artist/composer is gardening indoors with multifaceted garden ideas re-created on canvas.