Flowering Dogwood Trees

The Flowering Ornamental Dogwood 

Flowering Ornamental Dogwood
Flowering Ornamental Dogwood

If there is one American plant truly deserving of recommendation for ornamental use over a greater part of the United States, it is the flowering dogwood.

Commonly distributed in the woodlands over half the country at least, Cornus florida has been a highly valued ornamental since colonial times, and justly so.

One can seldom go wrong when giving flower gardening advice in recommending this dogwood for planting on the home grounds, especially where acid to neutral soils prevail and long summer droughts do not govern the selection of plants. Fortunately, it is available from most nurseries.

Everyone is familiar with its white flower bracts, four of which together are thought of as a "flower." Actually the true, minute, yellow flowers are bunched in the center formed by these four bracts.

It is these true flowers which bear the bright red fruits in the fall that are so colorful and most attractive to the birds.

Native in the East from Florida to southern New Hampshire and Maine, and as far west as Ontario, to Texas and even Mexico, the flowering dogwood has made many ardent friends over the years. Old trees may be as much as 40 feet tall, and nearly a century old, but usually they are considerably lower than this and younger as well.

The flowers appear in midspring, and because the plant is so widely distributed it is an excellent "indicator" of just when midspring occurs in a specific area.

In the fall, the resplendent brilliant scarlet color makes this tree one of the best native or exotic trees for fall  display. It should be planted in full sun to produce its best fall color, for shaded trees are not nearly as colorful.

This is one of the reasons why we appreciate so much those trees which just happen to have grown on the edge of the woodlands, for they flower, fruit and color in the fall far better than they do in shady situations.

The bright red berries are about the size and shape of grains of puffed wheat, usually about five to twelve in number. They are really small nutlets surrounded with pulp. They turn red before the leaves become scarlet so that there is an excellent red-green color combination earlier in the fall. Birds are fond of the fruits and it is undoubtedly because of this that the tree has been so widely distributed in the woodlands of North America.

The branches grow in a horizontal plane which makes the tree definitely flat topped… an important characteristic. Older branches begin to droop a bit as they become heavier, thus displaying the upper side where the flowers are produced. This branching habit is not only of interest during the growing season but all winter long as well.

Most trees have an upright branching habit so those with horizontal branches like the dogwood are greatly needed for variation in the landscape, especially during the long winter months when all deciduous trees are bare of foliage.

There are several varieties of dogwood. The pink or red flowering form is the most popular for its large colored flower bracts are most beautiful in the spring. In its extreme northern range, this pink variety has proved slightly less hardy than the white flowered type.

Other varieties available from only a few nurseries would include the double-flowered form plena, the pendulous branching pendula and the yellow fruited xanthocarpa. To most people, none of these forms is as beautiful as this species.

If one carefully observes a large number of trees in flower, it soon becomes evident that the flowers vary in size, some being merely 2 inches from the tip of one bract to the tip of another, others being as much as 6.5 inches. Actually, the small-flowered types are just as beautiful as the very large-flowered forms, and to many of us even more so.

The dogwood is easily propagated by cuttings, grafting or seeds. Each seed usually contains two embryos, each one capable of producing a plant. The seed should be stratified for three to four months at about 41 degrees, otherwise it may take two years to germinate.

Grafting out-of-doors is simple and easy, especially if one is trying to "make over" the species with scions from one of the varieties. Wrapping such grafts in polyethylene film for a few weeks may help, but we at Flower Gardening Tips have had excellent success merely by grafting in early spring, when the tree is dormant and coating the grafted union with wax. Homeowners can quickly learn the technique of outdoor grafting on dogwood since it is so easily done.

On the West Coast, Cornus florida is represented by a first cousin, Cornus muttalli, which is taller (up to 75 feet) and has six bracts which gradually turn a pinkish color even though they first appear pure white. This tree, which blooms a little earlier in the spring, cannot be grown in the East and is recommended only for growing on the Pacific Coast where it is just as popular and colorful as is Cornus florida in the East.

Valley Forge in Pennsylvania, well-known for the historic battle fought there during the Revolutionary War, has become famous for the thousands of flowering dogwoods that have been planted there as a living memorial. Other towns and even highway departments have planted them in large numbers.

It is not exactly pest-free, for borers sometimes do attack the trunk and there is a canker disease which may trouble a few transplanted trees. However, the flowering dogwood is a tree of remarkable beauty every season of the year… something that cannot be said of many woody plants being grown in our gardens today.

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