Happy New Year! In this first gardening article of the new year, I’d like to introduce my readers to one of the most colorful ornamental trees ever to be developed, a cultivar of our native redbud called ‘Flame Thrower’. Redbuds are great trees, hardy, with plentiful and dependable spring blooms, and a perfect size for most any landscape. There are quite a few great varieties to choose from, but I think this selection is going to wow gardeners everywhere.
‘Flame Thrower’ came out of the research of Dr. Denny Werner, a Distinguished Professor of Horticultural Science and plant breeder at the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, North Carolina. Although ‘Flame Thrower’ was introduced in 2019 in collaboration with Star Roses and Plants, it has not been widely available. Growers have ramped up production, and this spring should see more of this variety for sale at garden centers, although prices will most probably be high.
What makes ‘Flame Thrower’ so great? After a mid-spring show of pinkish-lavender blossoms on bare branches, the new leaves emerge a rich, bright crimson. As they develop, the leaves turn bronze, then chartreuse, fading to golden yellow, and finally green. But, that’s just the opening act! June brings a second flush of leaves to repeat the color sequence all over again! This is a color breakthrough for the redbud, and is guaranteed to turn heads. This fantastic color show lasts until late summer when the leaves fade to soft green. In the fall, they turn a bright yellow to end the show.
‘Flame Thrower’, like all redbuds, is hardy in Zones 5 to 9, which covers all of Central Indiana and south. Interestingly, it grows equally well in full shade to full sun, but colors seem to be brighter and last longer with afternoon shade. Topping off at 15-20’ tall and wide, it will add a flamboyant accent to any landscape.