PURISTS have always insisted that mistletoe was a poor choice for the official state flower, but few would argue with the selection of the redbud as Oklahoma's official state tree. When you see mistletoe in December, you're seeing a parasite. When you see a redbud in late March or early April, you're seeing paradise.
To mistletoe we've attached an almost spiritual significance. Redbud has none of that, but we would argue that nothing stirs the spirit more than the sight of a redbud at the peak of its beauty.
True mistletoe is European; the Oklahoma variety resembles it enough that the name is appropriate. Scandinavians associated mistletoe with their goddess of love. This is one explanation for the link between the plant and the planting of a kiss. Mistletoe was the “flower” of choice for wintertime grave decorations among the poorest settlers of early Oklahoma. It was free and plentiful.
Redbuds are also plentiful, but through most of the year they're scarcely noticed. They're underwhelming in the autumn and so-so in the summer. The redbud lumbers on through the coldest months, a small but stately tree, until arriving at this time of the year.
Then, all glory breaks out.
Perhaps, if the blooms came later, when the leaves of other trees would mask the presence of the redbud, it would not have become the state tree. Certainly, if the choice for state tree had been made based upon fall color, the redbud would have lost. As it is, there was simply no other choice.
Redbuds are best viewed in context, mixed with other deciduous trees that aren't so showy but have more value as wood. Clip off a small blooming redbud branch and put it in a vase. It is stunningly beautiful, but in this form there is something otherworldly about it, something oriental. In the wild, though, there is nothing foreign about the redbud. To our land it belongs.
Cities have no shortage of redbuds; many are hardy hybrids from nursery stock. They are sublime, but to truly appreciate the splendor of the native redbud, to take in the same experience that our ancestors enjoyed, get out of town. You may not have to go far to see an explosion of rosy pink blooms. It is a generous, giving tree. Its time of color lasts for weeks, not days.
Don't miss the show.
This is adapted from an editorial originally published in The Oklahoman on March 31, 2000, and written by opinion editor J.E. McReynolds.