The Legend of the Dogwood:
Many years ago, when Jesus was on Earth, the dogwood was a tall, sturdy, rugged tree. Sometimes, when Jesus wanted to be alone, He would rest in the shade of the dogwood tree. The tree grew very fond of Jesus because she recognized Him as a kind and gentle Man who loved all living things. One day, a woodcutter and some Roman soldiers came into the glen where the dogwood tree grew. They stopped and looked carefully at the tall, straight tree. The dogwood tree felt very proud as she listened to the woodcutter tell the soldiers how strong her wood was. “Well, Woodcutter,” said one of the soldiers, “you have chosen wisely. We need strong wood for this cross.” “Yes,” replied another soldier in a cruel voice. “it won’t be long before we arrest Jesus of Nazareth, the so-called King of the Jews.” The dogwood tree was deeply distressed when she heard this. If trees could cry, she would have wept great tears, for her sorrow went as deep as her roots. When Jesus came to the glen a few days later, He gazed sadly at the drooping boughs of the once proud tree, and He understood the dogwood’s great sorrow. “Because of your pity for Me, I promise you that a dogwood tree will never suffer such a fate again.” From that day on, the dogwood tree has grown slender and crooked. No longer does it produce sturdy, rugged wood, but it bears beautiful, delicate cross-shaped flowers. The center of each white blossom is marked with a crown of thorns, and on the tip of each petal are red marks that look like nail prints. Since that time, the gentle dogwood tree has been a reminder to all who see it that Jesus died so that we could have new life.
The ‘flowers’ of dogwoods are not really the flowers but the bracts. We will refer to the bracts as flowers in this description of the dogwood trees as they are the colorful part.
Flowering Dogwood Cornus florida
Grows 15-20’ with equal spread. Horizontal branching habit. Slow to medium grower. Glossy red 1/3 – 1/2” fruit in fall (birds love them). Likes acidic, well-drained soil with sufficient organic matter. Sun or part shade. Some disease problems have been reported as severe, but when grown in open areas where light and air movement is present, and good cultural practices (water during dry periods, fertilize, keep weeds from base) are done the trees have done very well. One of the most beautiful native flowering trees. The species is white “flowering”. Fall color is red-crimson.
Cornus florida 'Rubra'
Pink to pink-red “flowers”. Buds not as cold hardy as white dogwood. Red-crimson fall color.
New growth is burgundy-red. Vigorous grower. Red flowers with white in center.
Large white flowers up to 5” across. Early and heavy flowerer. One of the best white dogwoods.
Chinese Dogwood - Cornus kousa
Grows 20-30’ with equal spread. White flowers are 2-4 weeks after Cornus Florida, and are tapered to a point creating the look of a star. More drought resistant than Cornus Florida. Likes acidic, well-drained soil. Fruit is pink to red 1” round in August to October. Few disease and insect problems.
Very floriferous. Very fruitful. Varies in habit, but trees have large, plentiful flowers.
Large and abundant flowers are traits of this variety. Can grow to 30’.
A good pink form. The color varies from site to site, but generally starts whitish and turns pink with age.
Slow growing variety with variegated foliage. Grows to 7-10'.
Floriferous with light to medium pink flowers. Grows 15-20'.
White flowers with a hint of green. Strong flowering. Grows to 15-20'.
Empress of China
Evergreen foliage (at least most of the winter. Upright when young.
These are a cross between C. Florida and C. Kousa. They show good vigor and disease resistance. They flower after C. Florida and before C. Kousa.
Vigorous erect habit. Low branched and uniformly wide. Soft pink flowers. Original 19 year old seedling is 20’ x 19’.
Cornelian Cherry - Cornus mas
Very early blooming yellow flowers that are not your "typical" Dogwood flowers. Bright, red, oblong fruit in July. Grows 15-20' tall with a 12-15' spread. A very hardy and underused tree.
Pagoda Dogwood - Cornus alternifolia
Grows 15-25’. Habit is low horizontal branching forming “tiers”. Fragrant white flowers 1 1/2” – 2 1/2” wide flat topped upright cymes. Fruit turns from green to red to blue-black in July-August. Does best in moist, well-drained, acidic soil and part shade. Good for naturalizing or where horizontal characteristics are needed.