Like music, one of the hallmarks of biodiversity is theme and variation. Redbuds—species of the genus Cercis— from around the world illustrate this analogy well. Because all redbud species conform to a certain morphological theme, anyone familiar with one particular species of redbud should be able to recognize without hesitation any other redbud species as a member of the genus Cercis. In brief, the redbud theme consists of broad, basally-lobed, leaves with pulvinar petiole thickenings, and pea-like red-purple (rarely white) flowers that may arise on small twigs or main trunks. In fact, these plants are so distinctive, it would scarcely matter whether an unknown specimen were encountered in flower, before the leaves emerge, or later in the season, with just leaves and no flowers. The generic morphological theme is that strong. But with that theme come subtle variations from species to species.

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Summer 2013

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Copyright © 2013, Virginia Native Plant Society. This article first appeared in Bulletin of the Virginia Native Plant Society: 32:3 (2013), 3, 7.

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