A spring rainstorm has painted the gravel along on the ‘Road of Memories’ with fallen Redbud blossoms. Close by, a Lilac echoes the color, in a lighter hue. Martha Stewart couldn’t have planned a better combination. Maybe Selma Steele planned this one.
The Lilac was certainly planted here. Originally from Asia, this shrub quickly became an American favorite, loved for both its color and fragrance. I once ‘discovered’ a Lilac hidden amidst trees that had grown around it. I’d passed by it for a few years, not knowing it was there until I happened to be nearby when it was in bloom and its scent led me to it.
The Redbuds’s beginnings are less certain. The small tree, native to Indiana, may have just started growing here on its own. It doesn’t look to be ancient, so Selma probably didn’t plant it there, even though Redbuds transplant easily. But it’s a nice thought. She would have appreciated the effect that the two plants have created — complementing each other even as they compete for human attention.
They are different, yet similar. Redbud (Cercis canadensis), is a member of the Legume (or pea) family and Lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) are in the Olive family. But both are easily grown and both grow quickly. Lilacs send up shoots around the parent plant that can be dug up and moved to a new spot. Redbuds produce hundreds of peapod-like seed pods in the fall that apparently have no trouble germinating. It is known as a recovery species—one that soon appears along the edges or in open areas of a forest.
Selma surely planted the lilacs here at T.C. Steele State Historic Site and she may have planted (or transplanted) some of the Redbuds as well. The area across from the entry arches to the site is known as the ‘Redbud Field’, and is now brilliant with color. The spacing of the trees looks as if it had help from a human hand.
I don’t know how the Redbud got its name, since its color is closer to lilac than red. I do know that I wouldn’t want to have to pick a favorite. Where they originated doesn’t matter to me; they are equally yet differently beautiful. But you can decide for yourself — if you visit before the last blossom falls.
Davie Kean is the master gardener at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site.