Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cornus florida: my favorite Native Understory Tree

The Dogwood (Cornus florida) and its inflorescence are the state tree and the state flower for the U.S. Commonwealth of Virginia. It is also the state tree of Missouri and the state flower of North Carolina. An understory tree, it grows in shade and part shade. Trees in full sun will not have the pronounced layers of dogwoods in part shade. This time of year dogwoods dot the woods. In southern pine forests, mature trees are not usually killed when winter controlled burns take out undesirable understory growth, especially at woods' edge.

Dogwood blooms around the time of Easter. Legend interprets Dogwood bracts and flowers into a representation of the crucifixion itself. The four white bracts represents the four ends of the cross, each bearing a rusty indentation as of a nail and the red stamens of the flower, represents Jesus' crown of thorns, and the clustered red fruit represent his blood.


In previous years, as in the photo above from 2009, Dogwoods and Azaleas bloomed at the same time. Azaleas are late this year.

The fruit of the dogwood is a shiny red drupe. As they begin to fall, I gather the seeds and literally scatter them, at woods edge. In the garden, I push them into the soil about 3/4." Some sources recommend stratifying the seed.

Some of the Dogwoods in my garden were bird planted,
as was the one blooming above next to Loropetalum.
The small one in the foreground is a seedling I moved. 

Mature trees have squared pebbled bark.
Dogwoods are frequently multi-trunked.
Leaves are opposite, simple, with prominent veins.

Royal Standard Hostas grown under Dogwoods
echo the leaf vein pattern and color.
The Dogwood in left foreground is about 4 years old and is 6 feet tall, has not yet bloomed.
Behind it on the left is a 50 year old tree. A second one is out of sight behind an oak and a red cedar.
There are more than 20 Dogwoods in my garden, from the ancient tall ones to 12" seedlings.

A Dogwood planted by a bird grew up with a
Philadelphus. The Mock Orange prolongs the
season of white blooms by 3 weeks.
A pair of young Dogwoods planted with Spirea Bumalda flank the
entrance to the Oval Lawn in the Upper Garden.


  1. Dear NellJean, I cannot think of anything more lovely than to have a garden filled with Cornus, particularly at this time of year. They must surely be amongst the most beautiful of shrubs/small trees.

    I was most interested to learn what you had to say of the connection between the Cornus flower and the Crucifixion. I was unaware of this before now.

  2. Love the Dogwoods, ours are blooming and my pink one is getting some green growth..

  3. I love dogwoods. I have a lot of trees at my place but no dogwoods. Dogwoods are everywhere here too.

  4. The dogwoods are blooming here right now, though everything is coated with yellow pine pollen!

  5. I love dogwoods. I have one in my yard, an ancient red blooming variety. It's been damaged and diseased, and probably needs to come out. I sowed more seeds last fall. They've germinated nicely. I'm going to keep an eye on them this year and not let powdery mildew take them out. I want to ring the wild areas with these spring bloomers. It is the NC state tree, after all.

  6. How wonderful to have those dogwoods spreading around your property. Really pretty, especially with the azaleas.


  7. Thank you for your kind remarks. The 6 ft wide paths are so Pat and I can walk the yard together.

  8. Neil Jean,
    Wow you have a lot of dogwoods there, must be lovely right now. We just have a few I enjoy watching the thrushes eating the berries in the fall.

  9. That picture with white dogwoods flower and pink azaleas blossoms is so beautiful! You are so lucky with such a big garden, with so many variety of plants, flowers.

  10. I love dogwoods as well. My grandmothers garden used to have several, and I have loved them since. I have it on my list of plants I want to buy for sure, but I'm thinking more of getting the variegated form.

  11. NellJean, great post. Dogwoods are just starting to bloom in my area. The redbuds and the dogwood are such great pairings in the dappled shade along the edge of the woods.

  12. When I lived in Connecticut, we had native flowering dogwoods all over our property, and they were such a treat in spring. Alas, they won't grow in Maine (unless you have a *very* protected spot). We can grow other varieties of Cornus, but they just don't scream "Spring!!" in quite the same way. -Jean

  13. Nell, the dogwood is another native we share.

    Ours won't bloom until May though.

    Do redbuds grow in the wild there?

    I was so disappointed that we don't have any dogwoods growing on the farm. We do have redbuds. We have enough woods I had high hopes. I should buy the State's wildlife bundle and plant for later generations to enjoy.

  14. Oh, the dogwoods here are so different, we grow dogwood bushes and cut them back really hard every year and they grow back to give us the most amazing bright red and in other cases acid green stems. Never seen a dogwood tree, thanks xx

  15. Interesting to note that dogwood got a lot resemblance to the passion of Christ.
    Reminds me of the Passiflora - it too have lot in common with the significance.

  16. Dogwoods grow well down here too. I love them, and have no excuse for not having one in my garden.

  17. They are wonderful trees...and for some reason they didn't set buds last fall...I was wondering if 18 inches of rain in a month could cause that? gail


I look forward to comments and questions and lively discussion of gardening and related ideas.

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