A Blood Stained Beauty? - The Judas Tree
PUBLISHED: 07:00 19 May 2019 | UPDATED: 09:12 20 May 2019
Continuing Sidmouth Arboretum’s series Tree Of The Month, we are focusing on tree 1324 from the arboretum’s database, the Judas Tree outside Sidmouth Library, write Ed Dolphin.
There is a fine Judas Tree growing by the driveway in the Knowle and there are several others around the town including near the All Saints Road - Station Road roundabout.
There is a remarkably twisted specimen growing by the drive of The Knowle, in Station Road.
Tree 1324 was planted beside the path between the library and Blackmore Surgery in 1993 by Mrs Joan Titley, the then President of Sidmouth Inner Wheel, and Councillor Margaret Clark to mark the diamond anniversary of the Inner Wheel Association, an organisation linked to Rotary, that does a great deal of good work in the area.
Judas Trees (Cercis siliquastrum) are in the same family as peas and beans, as can be seen by the shape of the deep pink flowers which open on the bare branches around Easter.
The flowers are rich in nectar and pollen and so provide a feast for early bees and other insects.
The leaves, which open after the flowers, are a beautiful heart shape. The seed pods that follow the flowers turn a glorious plum colour as they ripen.
As with other members of the pea family, the roots of the Judas Tree have a symbiotic relationship with bacteria that can fix nitrogen and so improve the soil for nearby plants.
Cercis siliquastrum trees come from the near and Middle East.
Their common name of Judas Tree possibly comes from the legend of Judas Iscariot.
St Matthew's Gospel tells us that, after betraying Jesus for thirty pieces of silver but finding that Jesus was to be killed, Judas was so full of remorse he threw the coins back to the priests and committed suicide by hanging himself.
As Cercis trees were common in the Holy Land, it has been suggested that he hanged himself from one.
The legend says that originally the trees were tall, strong and proud and they bore white flowers.
When Judas committed suicide after betraying Jesus, the tree was so ashamed to have been involved it changed its growth habit, it no longer grew tall and straight so that it could not support another hanging and the flowers blushed with embarrassment.
A more prosaic story is that the name is a simple corruption of the name Tree of Judea, marking its origin.
Whatever the truth, these are beautiful trees, the bees are glad they have been brought to Sidmouth and they are well worth a visit at this time of year.
Ed Dolphin is Treasurer of Sidmouth Arboretum. There will be much more about the valley's trees in the annual Arboretum Tree Week beginning Monday, May 20. There will be a programme of talks and guided walks. Visit the Arboretum website https://sidmoutharboretum.org.uk to find out more.