Forest Pansy Redbud

Asked May 9, 2020, 8:02 PM EDT

Yesterday we noticed a squirrel in our yard behaving erratically, even for a squirrel. It was hopping straight up in the air, rolling around in a ball, lying upside down, rubbing its body on tree trunks, shaking, and exhibiting rapid, jerky behavior. It looked as if it could be rabid. What I didn’t like, and I haven’t seen before, is that i saw it repeatedly chewing on the ground level branches of my burning bushes, and I was worried it would damage the shrubs. We shooed it away. A little later, I happened to look out in the yard, and I saw a branch on my Forest Pansy Redbud where the bark was gone, right by the collar. I’m pretty sure the squirrel chomped the bark off. The branch had not been like that earlier in the day. I love that tree and enjoy looking at it regularly during the day. My question is: do you think that branch will be ok without its bark, especially right by the collar, or is there something we should do? Thank you!

Baltimore County Maryland

7 Responses

In general, It is normal for squirrels to clip branches for nest building, stripping bark from trees and branches, and digging in lawns to bury or search for nuts. This activity cannot be controlled. It is difficult to prevent squirrel damage, if there are a lot of mature trees in the neighborhood and the squirrels can move from tree to tree.
If you feed the birds, squirrels can be attracted to the seed. You may want to stop feeding the birds for a while or rake fallen acorns. The above activity will not kill the tree and no control is necessary.

We notice in your photos that there is not much foliage on the tree and this is concerning. We notice lichen on the trunk but this is not a cause for decline.
Has the tree leafed out fully? What does the canopy look like? Are leaves normal size? Has there been any construction damage in the area? Does the soil drain well?
You can send more photos of the whole tree and around the base and give us more information.

Also, Scratch the branches with your fingernail and look for green tissue. If you see it the branch is still viable. All you can do is keep the tree as healthy as possible. Make sure mulch is no thicker than several inches and away from the base of the trunk. Water during dry periods.


Thanks for responding to my question about the squirrel chewing bark off a branch, at the collar, of our Forest Pansy Redbud. You said that should not damage the tree.

You also expressed some concern about the health of the tree and asked further questions. Here are our answers:

This tree was planted by a local garden center in 2005, so it is 15 years old. The canopy is just now beginning to leaf out, so the leaves are not fully opened. It just recently lost its blooms in the high winds. After the leaves open, the canopy is full, the leaves are normal size, and they turn green instead of purple. We have had no construction, and the yard drains well. However, when we planted the redbud, it was placed to the back of the yard, about 12 ft. away from our 60-year-old silver leaf maple. we planned for it to be an understory tree. The last 20 years of the maple's life, though, BGE carved out the side of its branches toward the road, because there were power lines there. Because of the repeated damage, the tree became damaged, and had to be, sadly, removed in 2015, when the redbud was 10 years old. Now it is no longer an understory tree.

The neighbors behind us planted two trees 6 feet from the redbud. One is a kousa dogwood, and I’m not sure of the other. It has multiple branches at the base and thin leaves. They have a huge tree something like that near the front of their lot, so maybe this is a sapling.

The last couple of years, the redbud leaves in the summer were not uniformly colored. We were not sure if this was because the tree was no longer under the maple, if there was insect damage or if something else was happening. A person from the garden center came out to look, and she said it was a fungus, and that we should spray with Capt. Jack, which we did. I am attaching the photos you requested. We appreciate any advice you have, because we love this little tree.

Hi, I posted a response to your question and sent additional photos, but I do not see an email saying you received the information. Please let me know if I have to send it again or if you received it. Thank you!

Hi - Yes, we did receive your additional photos; thank you. We had our plant pathologist and entomologist review your photos. We can see that the growth is sparse and lacks overall vigor. We do not see any obvious disease or pest issues. Trees may decline gradually over a period of years due to a variety of stress factors in their environment. In this case, the tree may have been stressed by the sudden change to full sun conditions; as you have noted, these are understory trees. Also we had a few challenging weather years -- record rainfall in 2018 into spring 2019, and then a drought in late summer/fall 2019. These conditions have been tough on a number of different landscape plants. Also, redbuds are not typically long-lived trees like oaks or other forest tree species. Here is some information about reasons why trees may decline. It is difficult to pinpoint any single factor or cause.

All we can suggest at this point is to provide good care to the tree: water during drought drought, avoid soil disturbance/compaction around the tree, and do not over- mulch. Mulch should be no more than 2-3" deep and avoid putting it up against the trunk.

Since this tree is important to you, you may want to have it evaluated by a certified arborist to get another opinion. An arborist can evaluate the tree and site and can take samples from the tree to be evaluated in a lab. You can find a certified arborist using this website from the International Society of Arboriculture,


Thank you for responding to my earlier comments about our forest pansy redbud. Now that it is leading out, there are small green insects on the undersides of the leaves, and the leaves look like they are having some damage. Does this look familiar to you? Is there anything we should be doing to protect the tree? Thank you!

The small green insect is a nymphal leaf-hopper, you don't need to be concerned about them or the other issues. No treatment is necessary, but we do suggest that you water the tree slowly and deeply if we enter a period of drought this summer.

Watering tips:


Thank you, Christine!