Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

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The Cercis canadensis, or redbud, enhances April landscapes across the Sooner State. This medium-sized tree, from the Leguminosae family, boasts an array of purple-pink, clustered blossoms. Growing in valleys, forests, and fields, the redbud, with its heart-shaped leaves, evokes a message of love in Oklahoma.

Maimee Lee Robinson Browne (1881-1963) succumbed to the redbud's spell and made its conservation her personal mission. As general chairman of the Oklahoma City Beautification Committee, Browne led awareness and planting campaigns and pushed for the redbud to become the state tree. Her efforts overcame the objections of opponents, including the formidable Roberta Campbell Lawson of Tulsa, who contended that the Eastern redbud and the European redbud or Judas tree (connected to the betrayer of Biblical times, Judas Iscariot) were one and the same. Quelling the debate was information from Oklahoma City resident John Y. Iskian, who showed that although related, the two trees remained different. Concrete success came on March 30, 1937, when Gov. E. W. Marland and the Sixteenth Legislature signed Senate Joint Resolution Five officially bestowing emblem status and extolling the redbud's historical role of welcome to the "sturdy and hardy pioneers." On June 24,1971, the redbud as official tree became a statute under Gov. David Hall.

At the end of the twentieth-century Platt National Park in Sulphur vaunted one of the most prodigious displays of this hallmark tree. Beyond ornamentation, the redbud doubles as a medicinal remedy and a foodstuff, with many tempting recipes including redbud-sage muffins. The legacy of the redbud remains preserved on Oklahoma horizons and through a book of poetry published in honor of Browne. Hundreds of verses attest and revere Oklahoma's state tree: the redbud.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Alice Browne Allspaugh, "Necrology: Mrs. Virgil Browne," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 42 (Winter 1965). Maimee Lee Robinson Browne, Redbud in Poetry (N. p.: Glencoe-Vacherie Press, 1964). Margaret W. Hamilton, Sooner State Symbols (Norman, Okla.: Levite of Apache, 1992). Elbert L. Little, Jr., Forest Trees of Oklahoma (Rev. ed.; Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Forestry Services, 2000).

Rebekah Peck

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