This month will probably start the burst of spring blooms. I have already seen chickweed, dandelion, saucer magnolia, and henbit in bloom. Soon we will see redbud.
The redbud (Cercis canadensis) has another name, the Judas tree. An old legend says Judas hanged himself from this tree in remorse for betraying the Messiah. The tree reacted in disgrace, producing an immature bud that is tear-shaped and blood red. Look closely, and note the stem that holds the bloom to the tree, even it is deep red.
The blossoms appear before leaves form thus gracing our countryside with splashes of magenta. The mature flowers are about -inch long and cannot be fully appreciated without close examination.
The leaf is shaped like a fat heart, that is, the top of the leaf where the stem is attached is cleft and the bottom is pointed. But the sides bulge out more than the usual symbol that represents a heart on Valentine's Day (which is less than two weeks away).
The redbud, a slow growing shrub, is often cultivated as an ornamental but it thrives in the wild as far west as Southeastern Nebraska (my native state), from East Texas to Northern Florida and as far north as Southern Pennsylvania.
The redbuds will soon be in full bloom. Look for the uncultivated variety in wet places, such as the banks of streams, rich bottom-land or wherever the soil stays fairly moist. Although the shrub needs textured soil, the native variety will not thrive in Georgia red clay.
Redbuds rarely live more than 20 years. If the trunk is broken off in a storm or is cut off, it may not sprout. Most new native shrubs sprout from seed which begin to form shortly after the blooms drop. The pods that mature by midsummer measure -inch wide and 3 to 5 inches long. The seeds are black.
Apart from the colorful display of spring and the shade during summer, the Judas-tree is of little use. Only the most desperately hungry animals eat the leaves or sample the seed pods. The trunk has no value as firewood, fence post, veneer, mulch, or pulpwood.
I have never heard of any child being named Judas. The disciple named had aligned himself with the officials who sought to destroy Jesus. He had agreed to lead them to the Lord for 30 pieces of silver. After the crucifixion he returned the money and "went out and hanged himself" (Matthew 27:5).
Though Judas is universally despised, Jesus had chosen him as one of the 12 disciples. He had been entrusted by the other disciples with the finances of the roving band. He was repeatedly exposed to the teachings of Jesus and tenderly loved by the Master who taught "love your neighbor, as yourself."
There is an important lesson in this for all of us: are there ways we too might be denying Jesus? Are our motives pure? Are our conversations truthful, loving, helpful, encouraging? Are our relationships nobel?
The Lenten Season will begin Feb. 22. May we use that season to spiritually conquer the "little Judas" that exists within.
Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. Notecards are available of the wildflowers published in the Citizen. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 770-929-3697.