Western Redbud (Cercis orbiculata Greene or Cercis occidentalis Torr)
My memory of Redbud extends back to every Spring of my childhood. The vision is almost always the same…on a car trip into the mountains, usually heading towards Lassen, my mother would call out, “Oh! Look at the Redbud!”. Lining the roads as the elevation rose, and set against the barely wakening earth with her colors of pale green and dark grey oak, pink branches waved in greeting. One of the first flags to unfurl, the blossoming of the Redbud coincides with the Vernal equinox, leading the parade of wildflowers soon to follow. She feels like a secret to me, blending in with the rest of the trees in summer and bare and twiggy in winter, her memory recedes through the colder months until her re-emergence in spring. To me, her debut feels like the bell in meditation…a pleasant shock that snaps me back to This moment with a reminder to breathe.
In spring, the flowers are edible and in fall, the seed pods (you can see the ancient and no longer yummy pods above). We all did our fair share of munching on the flowers last weekend. They are mild and slightly sweet, without the bitter aftertaste that can sometimes accompany “edible”, but not necessarily palatable, flowers. On her first encounter, Fern was satisfied to stand at a bush and nibble for fifteen minutes. However, to listen to other foragers, you would think that the Redbud was a delicacy. I hate to say it, but I don’t think the flavor is much to write home about, with other flowers like Borage or Nasturtium being (in my opinion) a tastier treat. I have yet to try the seed pods, but I did collect a few, thinking I would plant the seeds around our home in Shasta Co. (If you do eat the pods in the fall, only take a few and leave most for critters and reproduction, ‘Kay?)
Regardless of the taste, Western Redbud is such a quintessential wild beauty that I love her, just because.
I knew that the young Redbud twigs and bark were used in basket making, primarily by the Maidu Indians, so I spent some time researching and trying to find out more. The Maidu lived south of Redding and East of Oroville, in the watershed of the Feather River. One of their sacred spots, Table Mountain, has one of the best wildflower displays in all of California, and I’m hoping to take Fern up there in a few weeks. One thing I learned this morning was the Maidu word for Spring, Yo-Meni, which translates as “flowers”. Aw.
The rest of my research was heartbreaking however, and I almost lost my inclination to write today. It is difficult to find information written by the tribe and their descendents, and most of what is out there was written by A. Kroeber (who is best known for his writing on Ishi.) in the early 1900s. However, any history of the California Native Americans always leads back to their genocide, spurred by the Gold Rush. The level of cruelty and dehumanization is mind-blowing, the theft of their lands outrageous. I don’t want to say anymore about my own feelings on it, because in a way I don’t feel it is my place. Here is part of the story told by the Maidu themselves, and here is documentation of what befell all the tribes around Shasta County, written by local historian Dottie Smith.
Here are three examples of Redbud baskets (other materials, such as Willow, are in the weave as well). Their technology and skill was so advanced that these puppies were water tight. The first is Maidu, the second Pomo, and the antique photo is unknown.
To see more examples, The Oakland Museum of California has a beautiful collection (that should probably be repatriated). Materials and tribe of origin are included for each.
I am hyper aware of some long overdue thanks I want to give (Teeny and Sara, I’m looking at YOU), so I will be back next week to share the package love, as well as some other springtime goodness. In the meantime, I leave you with this song. I hope it imparts some blossom giddiness and gets you set for a good weekend.
Think with your stomach! Do not ingest wild plants unless you are sure you have identified them correctly and are willing to take responsibility for using yourself as a guinea pig. It is SO not my responsibility if you eat the wrong thing and get poopy pants, or die. You’re an adult. you can make your own choices.
Love to all!