Redbud Project volunteers at the Riverfront park. Image courtesy of WPC.

Pittsburgh will be more colorful next spring thanks to a new series of tree plantings by the Pittsburgh Redbud Project.

Spearheaded by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC), and funded by the Colcom Foundation, the Pittsburgh Redbud Project will plant 1,200 flowering native tree saplings on trails, hillsides and open spaces in Downtown Pittsburgh in view of the city’s riverfronts. The project will focus mainly on planting redbuds, a beloved species known for its showstopping pink and purple flowers,  and one of the first trees to bloom in the spring.

Jeffrey Bergman, director of WPC’s community forestry program and TreeVitalize, says the concept was brought to them by the riverfront revitalization organization Riverlife and Frank Dawson, a Pittsburgh-based landscape architect who now oversees the project.

Dawson came up with the idea after seeing redbuds flourishing along the highways in the springtime during his frequent trips between New York and Pittsburgh. The project was also inspired by Wasington, DC’s famed cherry blossoms, which are celebrated as harbingers of spring with an annual festival.

Much like DC’s cherry blossoms, Bergman says that the redbud will help pull residents out of the winter funk that envelopes Pittsburgh each year.

“Winters in Pittsburgh can be very long and drag, and people get tired of the gray and cold,” says Bergman. “When the trees bloom, it’s this bright, beautiful color that signals the coming of spring. That’s one of the big things about the redbud that appeals to people.”

Not only will the redbuds enhance the landscape but they will also benefit the environment. The trees beautify communities throughout the year with their distinctive heart-shaped leaves, which, depending on the variety, come in different hues of red and green. Besides their visual appeal, the trees can also tolerate harsh urban conditions and provide food for wildlife with their seed pods and edible flowers.

Redbud flowers. Image courtesy of WPC.
Redbud flowers. Image courtesy of WPC.

Last spring, the Pittsburgh Redbud Project worked with the Sports & Exhibition Authority to plant more than 500 trees in North Shore’s Riverfront Park.

Over the next two months, the Pittsburgh Redbud Project will expand to three highly visible sites throughout the city. In late October, the WPC, in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, will gather volunteers from three city universities—Pitt, Chatham and Carnegie Mellon—to plant 97 redbuds at Point State Park. They will then gather volunteers from the Pittsburgh-based health product company GNC to plant 30 trees, as well as complementary shrubs and perennial plants, in the greenspace along the 10th Street Bypass.

In November, volunteers from the outdoor nonprofit Venture Outdoors will help bring 51 trees, and hundreds of complementary shrubs and perennials, to Gateway Islands, a set of median islands at the junction of Commonwealth Place and Liberty Avenue. The WPC will also work with the City of Pittsburgh forester to remove dead or dying trees from the area.

“We’ll be really sprucing that area up through this project,” says Bergman. “This is an opportunity to add some color and new trees to the location.”

After the plantings, the WPC will care for the new trees over the next few years. They’re also looking at opportunities to plant redbuds in more neighborhoods and parks throughout the city

Bergman says the project wouldn’t be possible without the help of volunteers donating their time to the cause.

“With our brand of tree planting—community forestry—we plant all of our trees with community members and volunteer groups,” says Bergman. He adds that their volume of planting requires a lot of hands. “(You) come out early on a November morning and it’s drizzling out and you help plant these trees. You remember that experience and you feel connected to that. It’s one of the favorite parts of my job.”

Want to volunteer for the Pittsburgh Redbud Project? Contact WPC organizer Marah Vecenie at 412-586-2386 or by email.  Visit the project’s website to receive free redbud seeds and instructions on how to plant them.

Amanda Waltz

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated to covering Pittsburgh film culture. She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and oversized house cat.