The Flowering Dogwood Tree, also known as Cornus Florida, is one of the flowering trees native to Southeastern Canada, Northern Mexico, Eastern Texas, and Eastern North America. It belongs to its own family, known as Cornaceae or the dogwood family. It is also found along the Mississippi river banks and beyond.
The flowering dogwood grows from about 15-40 feet tall, with 40 feet being its maximum height across the majority of species. It has a trunk diameter of about 1 foot and is one of the small trees found in the states, known for its aesthetics and hardwood.
1. Features of The Flowering Dogwood Tree
The dark green leaves of Cornus Florida are oval in shape and are arranged right opposite from each other on the twigs, mainly in pairs. The veins found on the leaves are very prominent, serving as one of the identifying features of the tree.
During fall, the tree leaves turn reddish-purple in color, the perfect fall color, serving to the aesthetics of the areas they grow in throughout the year. The fall foliage is a rather attractive, attracting various tourists and nature lovers.
The flowering dogwood trees are known for white, pink, and red flowers, which bloom as spring flowers and massively add to the beautification of the areas they grow in. However, the very prominent ‘flowers’ of the flowering dogwood are, in reality, bracts (leaves) which cover small yellow ‘true flowers’ in the middle and are found in groups of 4.
The native flowering dogwood trees have white flowers, while some other selected cultivars can have ranging colors, bearing from light pink to almost true red flowers. Fragrant flowers are also used to make fragrance oils. The flower is a hermaphrodite, having both male and female reproductive parts.
The bark of the flowering dogwood tree is dark in color, having a scaly ‘alligator hide-like appearance.’ The wood of the tree is known for its rigidity, used in various tools within the textile industry.
The edible fruit of the flowering dogwood serves as an important wildlife fruit, and ripens during the fall. The fruit is a rather attractive red to bluish-colored fruit, depending upon the species of interest, which are droopy in shape. Usually, it grows in clusters of 3-5, and has a shiny bright-red color and a glossy texture. However, some species which are found in the form of shrubs are also known to bear berries in clusters of 20-40. The berries appear at the point where the leaves meet the branches.
Over 30 different species of birds are known to consume flowering dogwood berries. However, among humans, there were numerous cases of rashes after the consumption of the flowering dogwood berry. Only a few of the species of the flowering dogwood are deemed safe for human consumption.
2. Cultivation Requirements of The Flowering Dogwood Tree
The flowering dogwood tree can be cultivated in both full sun and partial shade, but those grown in partial shade are known to perform better if they have pathogen-resistant properties. If grown in full sun, they become more prone to Dogwood borers, a pest caused by borer larvae. These borers are found mainly in bark wounds, underdeveloped roots, and grafting knots. However, if the species you’ve chosen are not resistant to fungal diseases, it is advisable to plant them in full sun with few surrounding plantings.
The Dogwood borers can affect the wood of the tree, making it moist and turning it into a reddish-brown color. In worst cases, wood can even fall out due to loss of strength. These borers can also affect the leaves of the tree, turning them into different odd colors and making them fall off. The best practice to save the tree from borers is pruning.
The flowering dogwood tree can be grown in a variety of soil types but is observed to grow the best in well-drained, humous-rich acidic soil types.
These trees require supplemental water during summer and fall. It is advisable to water the tree thoroughly once a week, to a depth of 6 inches. The flowering dogwood trees do not require a lot of fertilizers in the first year of their life span, owing to their delicate nature, but they might require some shrub fertilizers later.
3. Varieties of The Flowering Dogwood Tree
Flowering Dogwood has many varieties, which can be differentiated by their flowers, leaves, growing zones, and several other factors. Let’s have a look at some of the popular varieties of flowering dogwood trees.
3.1. Canadian Bunchberry Dogwood
Also known as Cornus Canadensis or the North Korean Dogwood, the Canadian Bunchberry Dogwood is a creeping perennial plant with a short-lived life span. These can grow to be around 4-8 inches tall. The shiny dark green leaves are arranged oppositely on the stem, commonly found in bunches of 6 each.
From late spring to mid-summer, small flowers can be observed as well, which have white bracts. The anthers are yellow in color. The fruit is green at first and turns bright red when ripened during late summer. It is mainly found in gardens having acidic soil.
Its native growing zones are Japan, North Korea, Northeastern China, Northern United States, New Mexico, Canada, Colorado, and Greenland.
3.2. Blood Twig Dogwood
Also known as common dogwood, blood dogwood or Cornus sanguinea, the blood twig Dogwood is mainly found in Europe and Western Asia. It is grown mainly for decorative purposes, making it an ornamental plant.
It is one of the deciduous shrubs and has greenish-brown twigs and branches. The flowers have creamy-white bracts found in groups of 4 and are hermaphrodites. They also have small fruits, commonly called ‘dogberries’.
It is mostly found in sunny places and is propagated through seeds and root sprouts. It serves as food for various butterflies and moths, even for some mammals and birds also.
3.3. Siberian Dogwood
Also known as Red-Barked Dogwood or Tatarian Dogwood, its scientific name is Cornus Alba. It is another ornamental plant serving decorative purposes. It grows in the form of small trees and is native to Central and Eastern Asia, parts of Russia, and Ukraine.
The Siberian Dogwood Tree is known to have white fruits and flowers and erect red stems, attracting various birds and serving nesting purposes as well. It has dark green leaves with a wrinkled appearance, and the fall foliage is red to purple in color.
The flowers of the shrub are visited by various bees, butterflies, and other pollinators and are resistant to mammals.
3.4. Red Osier Dogwood
Also known as red twig dogwood, Cornus Sericea is a variety of flowering dogwood trees native to Northern America. It can be 6-9 feet tall and 7-10 feet wide. It blooms in late spring and has white flowers. It is known to grow best in moisture-rich soil and in full sun to partial shade.
It is an upright shrub found mainly around swampy areas like river banks and lakes. It has a reddish stem that turns bright red in winter, in combination with white fragrant flowers. White fruit can be observed in summer as well.
The Red Osier Dogwood serves as food for various mammals like black bears and 47 different bird species. It helps in soil retention and serves decorative purposes.
3.5. Pagoda Dogwood
Cornus alternifolia or Green Osier Dogwood is native to eastern North America, found in areas including Southern Manitoba and Minnesota, Northern Florida, and Mississippi. It is found in the forms of shrubs and trees, its height ranging 25-30 feet, and its trunk has a 6-inched diameter (approximately). Its leaves have green color on the surface and slightly blue color at the bottom and are arranged alternatively on the stem, a rare feature within the Cornus species.
Its bark is grey to brown in color, with small cream-colored bracts around the flower. Its fruit is blackish-blue in color. It flowers during early spring and is found in forests and swampy regions.
The fruit is known to be consumed by about 10 species of birds and black bears, and its leaves and barks are consumed by deer, beavers, and rabbits. It also attracts birds, butterflies, and bees. It also has great ornamental value and is used in traditional Chinese medicine in the form of a tonic.
3.6. Mountain Dogwood
Also known as Cornus nuttallii and Pacific Dogwood, the Mountain Dogwood is native to Western North America. It is a medium-sized deciduous tree; it is 20-75 feet in height and has a canopy spread of 20 feet. Its bark is reddish brown in color, and the leaves are oppositely arranged on the stem, which is green in color during spring and orange to purple in fall.
The flower of the Pacific Dogwood has white bracts in clusters around it, and blooms twice a year, once in spring and again in late summer or early fall. Its fruit is orange to pink in color, as is found in clusters of 20-40. They ripen mainly during the fall season.
The fruit is known to be consumed by various birds and mammals and serves medicinal purposes in various tribes.
4. What Do We Get From Flowering Dogwood Trees?
4.1. Visual Satisfaction
Various types of flowering dogwood trees have great ornamental importance. The most commonly used dogwood tree for decoration is white dogwood, which serves great beautification purposes throughout the year.
White Dogwood blooms with white flowers in early spring. It is covered with green leaves throughout the summer and is laden with beautiful red droopy fruit in late winter. Therefore, throughout the year, it continues to attract living beings, humans and animals alike.
The fruit of several other types of dogwood is used to make alcoholic beverages. For instance, the Cornelian Cherry, found on Red-Osier Dogwood, is used to make Vin De Courneille, a popular alcoholic consumed in various areas, especially in France.
4.3. Natural and Essential Oils
Various parts of the flowering dogwood tree are used to extract natural and essential oils, which are used across the globe for various purposes. While some of them hold medicinal importance in traditional medicine, others are used as fragrant elements.
For instance, the fruit of the Blood-Twigged Dogwood Tree is used to extract natural fruit oil, which is used as scenting element in various soaps and body washes. Apart from that, the fruit of the Pagoda Dogwood is used in Chinese Traditional medicine in the form of a tonic and is known to have various health benefits.
The wood of Cornus species is known across the world for its rigidity. It is a rather durable form of wood, which has great resistance against wear and tear. Therefore, it is used in the form of tools, mainly in the textile industry, where production takes place on a large scale, and machines are more prone to damage.
4.5. Historical Importance
Apart from its fine wood, aesthetics, oils, and beverages, flowering dogwoods also hold great historical importance. It is mentioned by various scholars that the word ‘dogwood’ is derived from the word ‘Dagwood’, which refers to the use of the tree in making tools like daggers and swords by the early men. Native Americans also used flowering dogwood tree to make arrows, daggers and toothbrushes.
Also, there is a Christian legend which claimed that the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified was also made of the bark of the flowering dogwood tree. Various legends in the Christian religion also mention that the tree is among the ‘dwarf trees’ as Jesus turned it into one after his crucifixion.
The structure of the flower of the flowering dogwood tree is also related directly to the crucifixion of Christ. It is said that the bracts of the flower are arranged in groups of four to represent the four corners of the cross, and the ‘true flowers’ and red stamen (found in various varieties) in between represent the crown of thorns that adorned the head of Jesus.
4.6. Symbol of Love
From the Victorian Era up until now, the flowers of the Flowering Dogwood are exchanged between lovers as a token of love and emotions. Owing to their ornamental and fragrant value, they are a very popular species used to confess the feelings of one’s heart!
5. Diseases That Can Affect Flowering Dogwood Tree
The flowering dogwood tree, as you must’ve figured by now, holds great importance throughout the world even after being one of the existing Endemic species. They bear beautiful flowers, leaves and edible fruits, which is bound to make them more prone to diseases if not given proper attention. Apart from that, flowering dogwood trees are known to lack pathogen-resistant properties, excluding some species. That makes them more prone to some lethal fungal infections and attacks.
Following are some diseases that can affect dogwood trees:
5.1. Dogwood Anthracnose
Dogwood Anthracnose is known to affect Flowering and Pacific Dogwood Trees. It was the first reported disease of the species, first recorded in 1978 in the USA. It is one of the most threatening diseases for the species and has resulted in the loss of it in large portions.
It is a highly resistant disease, meaning it is hard to get rid of once the plant gets infected. It first appears in the form of dark brown spots and blotches on leaves but later turns into a hard-to-get-rid-of fungus infection. It can also kill the plant if not tended to properly.
The Dogwood Anthracnose disease can be cured by sunlight, as its severity is inversely related to it. Therefore, the species which are not resistant to it are advised to be planted in full sun and no surrounding plantations. It is also advisable to discard infected leaves as soon as noticed to prevent further spread of the fungus. Fungicides and proper watering is also advisable based on the weather and climatic conditions.
5.2. Dogwood Crown Canker
Since the majority of types in the species are not pathogen disease resistant, they are more prone to fungal infections. Another fungal infection that can affect the flowering dogwood tree is Dogwood Crown Canker.
Crown Canker mainly attacks the leaves of the tree or shrub, making the underside of the leaves weaker and lighter in color. It is hardly noticeable at first, making it more lethal. Overtime, it kills the leaves at an increasing rate as the infection spreads.
Canker diseases are known to enter the plant through bark wounds. Therefore, it is advisable to take care of such wounds to save the plant from pathogen attacks. If you notice that the disease has already started affecting the tree, it is advisable to cut off the affected parts (including leaves, bark, and sapwood) to eliminate the Canker. If you’re cutting the bark, it is advisable to cut it off along with 2 inches of healthy bark to prevent further infection, using a sharp knife.
5.3. Dogwood Powdery Mildew
Another fungal disease known to attack flowering dogwood trees is Powdery Mildew due to its lack of resistance to Pathogens. It appears in the form of white powdery fungal growth, leaving the leaves reddish-brown to purple in color in blotches and spots. It also results in curling and drooping of leaves, resulting in premature leaf fall.
This infection is known to affect the plant during mid-summer, as it is mainly favored by high humidity levels. It is not known to kill the plant altogether, but it can adversely affect flower and fruit production and growth rate. It can also attract other plant diseases and insects towards the plant.
It is advisable to look after the tree with proper mulching, pruning, and timely removal of dead branches. Keep a check on the amount of nitrogenous fertilizers used. Since spread by humidity, excessive irrigation is also not advised.
When the disease is first noticed, the application of appropriate fungicides and spray programs must be followed.
6. Favoritism of The Flowering Dogwood Across History
Apart from its high usage in the early and biblical times in the form of tools and medicine, the flowering dogwood tree has also been enjoyed and preferred by various famous personalities.
George Washington, the first president of the United States of America from 1789- to 1797, panted a white Dogwood at Mt. Vernon, his private plantation. The plantation was acquired by his father and remained his home throughout his life, undergoing various expansions.
Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States of America, served the country for 8 years (1801-1809). He was known to take an interest in landscaping and gardening, loving to look after flashy flowers. The flowering dogwood was known to be present in his private gardens at Monticello.
Thus, the Flowering Dogwood tree, belonging to the ‘Cornus’ species of its known, is one of the greatly valued endemic plant species of Eastern North America and surrounding regions. Its aesthetic value helps it in standing out from other species, owing to its attractive flowers and beautiful and edible fruits.
It might be classified as a dwarf tree or a shrub, but it holds great historical, medicinal, and religious importance amongst believers as well. Its flowers and fruits can be used to extract oils and alcoholic beverages, and the bark gives highly durable and rigid wood.
Due to its low pathogenic resistance, it can be prone to various fungal diseases. Therefore, take care of the valuable species as long as you want to enjoy all of its benefits and above all, its beauty, which was known to attract famous personalities like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Let’s give these trees the status and importance they deserve!
Do you know any interesting facts about the flowering dogwood tree? Share your thoughts in the comment section.