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Cercis canadensis ‘Merlot’ – Even Non Wine Drinkers Will Want To Plant One

July 21, 2023

This past weekend, a group of friends and I were running in a relay race across the Adirondack mountains. When you’re not running, you are spending hours in a van following the next member of your team. With all of these van hours there are many different conversations. Including relaying the storyline of Sideways to one team members who had yet to see this classic movie about friends discovering themselves in wine country.

The irony was that we may have been discovering ourselves while running in this 200 mile relay by talking about men discovering themselves. But maybe not. My running club in not the first place I think of for self-help junkies and wine drinkers. They’re more the suck it up and pass me a beer kind of friends I need.

“I am not drinking (expletive) Merlot!”

-Miles from the movie Sideways
cercis merlot

I’m back at work today feeling aware and refreshed as if I had been at a spiritual retreat. I guess if you call riding in a van with a bunch of smelly guys and running over 23 miles at various periods over 24 hours meditation, then so be it.

As I was making my way through the gardens, I walked by one of my favorite trees, the Merlot redbud, Cercis canadensis x ‘Merlot.’ In a film noir moment, I immediately replayed the conversation from the weekend along with the mental clip of Miles stating in Sideways that he hoped his blind date would not drink merlot.

You are probably now thinking that is a strange and ironic story or that I am a strange person and feeling the utmost sympathy for my wife because she has to put up with these kinds of streams of consciousness constantly. If you are thinking the latter, you are welcome to mail her a bottle of merlot to help her cope.

cercis merlot

Ok, let’s put a fine point on this story.

Whether you like merlot or not, add a Merlot redbud to give your garden a refined taste.

Why, you might ask? Because it is one of the most fantastic, dark-leaved, small flowering trees in cultivation.

The origin of Cercis canadensis ‘Merlot’

Dr. Dennis Werner from North Carolina State University crossed a dark-leaved redbud, Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ with an ecotype from Texas and Mexico know as Cercis canadensis var. texensis. Dr. Werner selected one seedling from this lot because of its dark leaf color (from Forest Pansy) and thick glossy leaves (from its Texas cousin).

The Merlot redbud matures at 12 to 15′ in height and width so it will make the perfect small tree for the residential landscape. As most redbuds, it has bright pink flowers on all parts of the stems before the leaves emerge. Redbuds are one of the few trees that even flower along the main trunk.

After flowering, the deep burgundy, well, I guess you could say merlot colored leaves emerge. The foliage color is held throughout the summer until the leaves drop in the fall. These redbud trees are reportedly hardy to USDA zone 6. But, given the native parent variety it is tolerant of zone 5 – I have a sneaking suspicion they may be a bit hardier than the literature states.

– Rodney

Images: NC State Department of Horticulture, Mail Order Trees

Planting Ideas and Inspiration for Forest Pansy:

If you’re looking for high style planting inspiration featuring lots Cercis canadensis trees, you will find it in this garden by Chris Jacobson. Photographed by Caitlin Atkinson, this garden is in Atherton, CA. It’s inspired by the naturalistic style of Piet Oudolf but is water-wise and appropriate for the dry regional climate. Take a full tour of the garden on the GardenArt Group Website.

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  1. Drew Tracy says:

    Stunning! Thanks for the info.

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