Hundreds Of Eastern Redbuds Take Root In Pittsburgh

Apr 19, 2016

Winchester Thurston sixth graders Peter Kubiak, Otto Graham and Nick Blair work on planting one of 400 Eastern redbud trees that will soon bloom along Pittsburgh's river fronts and hillsides.
Credit Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Pockets of bright pink will begin dotting river fronts and other open spaces in Pittsburgh over the next few weeks.

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy will plant 400 Eastern redbud trees this spring, with another 800 to be planted by fall 2017.

The small tree with vibrant fuchsia flowers is native to the region and blooms early in the spring. Jeffrey Bergman, director of urban forestry programs at the conservancy, said those are two of the main reasons redbuds were chosen for this planting.

“The grays and the browns of winter in Pennsylvania can really drag on people, so when you see that burst of color, that really was a big part of the inspiration,” he said.

In addition, indigenous white pines and American hollies will be planted. Bergman said planting diverse species of trees and shrubs is a good way to control pests and diseases.

Bergman said the redbuds seed prolifically and will serve as a food source for birds, while bees will enjoy the nectar from the blossoms.

The trees will be planted on trails, hillsides, parks and open spaces along the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers, around downtown Pittsburgh and near Point State Park.

Bergman said members of the Explorers Club of Pittsburgh rappelled down the steep hillsides of Mount Washington to plant saplings over the weekend, and the conservancy will also use seed bombs to get redbud seeds onto hard to reach areas.

A mockup shows what Pittsburgh will look like with the Eastern redbuds in bloom.
Credit Cannon Design

The project is being funded by the Colcom Foundation, which kicked in $520,000. John Rohe is vice president of philanthropy and said tree plantings like this one improve quality of life for residents and make the city more appealing for visitors.

“There’s a subtle effect to this stuff that affects who we are as a people, affects the whole city and just makes this a place that feels like home,” he said. “It brings back an indigenous species to the area, shows respect for our natural history and gives the photographers something to play with when they want to come to Pittsburgh.”

Students from Winchester Thurston School and employees from Duquesne Light volunteered their time to help plant saplings along the Three Rivers Heritage Trail on the North Shore Tuesday morning.

Kelly Flynn has worked as a field staff member with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy for the last three years and helped sixth graders Otto Graham, Nick Blair and Peter Kubiak dig a hole for a redbud.

Blair said digging the hole was a little harder than he had anticipated, especially on the sloping hillside between Heinz Field and the trail, but Kubiak said it was better than being in math class on a sunny and warm spring day.