Thursday, 11 March 2021

Cercis: not just a tree!

 Recently, I wrote about the interesting inside of a Cercis branch, after I'd cut a limb from a small tree.

It's not always grown as a tree - a few years ago, I met an interesting use of a plant in the "wrong" place:  Cercis canadensis (pronounced sir-kiss, by the way) had  been planted below the kitchen window (!) and the owner could barely see to do the washing up, not to mention being unable to see out of the window, so I was asked to remove or reduce it.


As the leaves are rather lovely, being a plump heart-shape with an elegant point, I thought I would try a form of coppicing, in order to encourage better foliage at eye level.

Accordingly, the next autumn, I cut all the main branches down to waist height, removed some of them altogether, and I brutally pruned off all the small branches, leaving just a short, drastically thinned-out skeleton of a shrub. 

 One of those jobs that you do with your heart in your mouth, as drastic pruning can sometimes kill a shrub... but worth the risk, as the owner was in favour of removing it altogether.

I do love it, incidentally, when a garden owner trusts me enough to let me do things like this...

In this case, fortune smiled upon me, and it worked like a charm: we now have a nice, small, bush, of lovely luxurious leaves, and washing up is once again easy to do. 

Not to mention being able to see across the garden, for the first time in years!

That autumn, and every autumn since, I have therefore pruned it again, brutally! savagely!, removing all the new growth and taking it back to the skeleton - and throughout the summer, I keep an eye on it, and chop off any exuberant new growth, before it blocks the kitchen window again.

 And now for the magical bit:  this is what happens, in spring - right.

Can  you see all those little dark pink blobs?

They are the flowers: Cercis is a flowering tree or shrub, and it flowers on old wood, on the oldest of the old wood: it even flowers on the main trunk which is rather weird-looking, but there's a name for it - ready for some botany?

Cercis canadensis is cauliflorous, meaning that it is normal behaviour for flowers to appear on the trunk, and stems. Cauliflory is derived from Latin, and allegedly means ‘stem flower’ but I think it means 'looks like a cauliflower, ie growing without a stem'.

The real magic occurs a few weeks later, when the flower buds open fully, to give this fabulous display:

Isn't that great?

Just look! It has now produced flowers all over,  on the main trunk, and on all those branches which I chop back to nothing every autumn!

The owner was amazed, it had never flowered before: the previous gardener had only ever run a hedgetrimmer over it from time to time, when it got too dark to see in the kitchen.

So you can guess that I shall continue to prune this plant very hard indeed, in order to get a good show of flowers every spring, and to keep the leafy growth low enough to be enjoyable without obstructing the light.

It's still in the "wrong" place, but at least now we can enjoy it! 



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