The sight of purplish-red color splashed through the understory of the woods is a true sign of spring. Redbud trees are in bloom throughout the Mid-South. These small trees covered with pink or rose flowers are easily recognizable from a distance. They grow under the oak and hickory cover of the woods and along ditch banks and forest margins. Redbuds are propagated by seeds that hang in pods, and are distributed by songbirds and the wind. In suburban settings, the colorful redbud is a cultivated favorite for landscape plantings. Honey bees are attracted in great numbers to the bright pink to rose-colored flowers which cover redbud twigs, stems, and even trunks. Honey bees do not make a surplus of redbud honey, but the tree does provide a dependable source of both nectar and pollen at an important time when bees are rapidly expanding their colonies and need all of the food they can gather to feed the brood.
The redbud is a member of the important family of bee plants, the legumes. The legumes, or pea or bean family, includes many of the most prolific producers of nectar for honey. Many of the legumes are forage and food plants. Clover is a legume, as are alfalfa, peanuts, lentils, lespedeza, peas, beans, wisteria, and vetch. Like the redbud, a number of trees are legumes. Among them are the black locust, honey locust, mimosa, and Kentucky coffeetree. By pollinating the flowers of legumes, the honey bees play an important role in producing seed, and help produce food for humans as well as livestock and wildlife. The seeds of the legumes are contained in pods that resemble peas or beans. Many of the legumes also serve the environment by enriching the soil. Bacteria growing in nodules on the roots of legumes take nitrogen from the atmosphere and convert it in the soil to a usable form for plants to absorb. In this way these plants actually enrich the soil.