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6 Discovering the Beauty of Dogwood Trees

6. Discovering the Beauty of Dogwood Trees

Discover the incredible variety of dogwood trees available. This article covers popular types like flowering dogwood, Kousa dogwood, hybrids, Cornelian cherry, pagoda dogwood and pink varieties.

When it comes to stunning ornamental trees for gardens and landscapes, it’s hard to top the season-spanning beauty of dogwoods. With their spring flower displays, attractive foliage and form through summer, vivid fall colors, and striking bark for winter interest, dogwood trees offer year-round appeal that few other plants can match.

Dogwoods are deciduous trees and shrubs that belong to the genus Cornus. Over 50 different species exist, many of which have been cultivated into hybrids and cultivars favored by landscapers and gardeners. Native to North America, Europe, and parts of Asia, dogwoods can be found thriving in regions across the United States.

From compact shrubs to towering shade trees, dogwoods come in a wide range of sizes, bloom colors, fruit displays, and growth habits suitable for any landscape design. Their incredible versatility and four-season allure make them the perfect choice for adding long-lasting color and visual interest. Let’s explore some of the most beautiful and popular dogwood tree types!

1. Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

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The flowering dogwood is the iconic species most of us envision when we think of dogwoods. These small to medium-sized trees naturally occur across the eastern United States, extending into southern Ontario. They produce showy white (or pink on some cultivars) bracts in spring that resemble large blooms surrounding tight clusters of tiny yellow flowers.

After their floral display, flowering dogwoods take on a flat-topped, horizontally layered branching structure with attractive grayish-green foliage through summer. Come fall, their leaves transform into a kaleidoscope of brilliant purple, orange and red shades before dropping to reveal the tree’s smooth gray bark and pencil-like branch structure for winter interest.

Many cultivars of flowering dogwood have been selected for bloom color, size, disease resistance or growth habits like weeping or dwarf forms. Standouts include the popular ‘Cherokee Chief’ with deep burgundy-red bracts and ‘Wolf Eyes’ with its distinctive variegated foliage.

2. Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa)

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If you’re growing dogwoods primarily for their late spring flower power, the Kousa dogwood is an excellent alternative to the native flowering species. Originating from China, Korea and Japan, Kousas tend to be larger, more cold-tolerant and notably resistant to the fungal disease issues that often plague flowering dogwoods.

The showy blooms of Kousa dogwood emerge in late spring after the tree leafs out in a layered, horizontal branching form similar to flowering dogwoods. Their flowers resemble pointed stars composed of four narrowly-pointed white bracts surrounding the center cluster.

Many people actually prefer the unique branching structure of Kousa dogwoods, which creates an incredibly ornamental scaffold perfect for showcasing those long-lasting, bright blooms in early summer. The pointed leaves turn a lovely reddish-purple in fall, and the tree produces raspberry-like red fruit clusters that are edible for humans as well as birds and wildlife.

3. Hybrid Dogwood (Cornus x ‘Eddie’s White Wonder’)

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One of the most common and popular hybrid dogwoods available is the cross between the flowering dogwood and Kousa types known as Cornus x ‘Eddie’s White Wonder. As its name implies, this hybrid produces large, pure white blooms resembling the bracts of flowering dogwood combined with the greater resistance and vigor from its Kousa parentage.

With these handsome hybrids, you get all the gorgeous ornamental traits of both dogwood parents without as many of the common problems. Eddie’s White Wonder dogwoods hold their vibrant blooms well through late spring, followed by lush green summer foliage that turns purple-red in autumn. Their horizontal branching pattern creates a picturesque small tree ideal for specimen plantings.

Beyond Eddie’s White Wonder, various other hybrids exist by crossing different flowering dogwood and Kousa cultivars. These combos allow landscapers to select more cold-hardy or heat-tolerant varieties with the specific flower forms, growth habits and fall displays desired.

4. Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas)

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While the dogwood species above are grown primarily for their incredible flower displays each spring, the Cornelian cherry dogwood is highly valued for its early bloom time and ornamental berry clusters that extend its showy season well into summer.

One of the earliest flowering landscape trees, the bright yellow puff balls of Cornelian cherry dogwood often appear as early as late winter, with peak bloom occurring in early spring before the leaves even emerge. These cheery bursts of color help signal the end of the cold season and kick off the spring bloom parade in gardens and outdoor spaces.

After their flower show, Cornelian cherries produce clusters of cherry-red edible berries beloved by birds, wildlife and even humans for making preserves and wines. The glossy green foliage turns shades of purple and red in fall, and the tree’s mottled, exfoliating bark provides excellent winter interest and texture once the leaves have dropped.

5. Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

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For gardeners looking for a dogwood with a more distinctly pyramidal or pagoda-like form, the pagoda dogwood fits the bill. Unlike the horizontal branching pattern of other dogwood varieties, this North American native develops distinctive tiered and upright branches that give it a stacked appearance over time.

In spring, pagoda dogwoods explode with clusters of small creamy yellow flowers dispersed all along their tiered limbs. These blooms make a striking contrast against the tree’s deep green foliage through summer. As the leaves change to fiery reds and purples each fall, the tree’s horizontal branches and pagoda shape become even more pronounced.

While pagoda dogwoods lack the flashy flower bracts of other dogwood types, their unique growth habit and fall color display more than makeup for subtler blooms. Many landscapers utilize them as stunning vertical accents or backdrop plants in shrub borders or at the corners of homes.

6. Pink Dogwood Varieties

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While the white floral displays remain the most iconic, some dogwood cultivars have been developed to show off shades of pink, red and even peach in their showy bracts. These vibrant color choices often draw a lot of attention in spring gardens.

One of the most famous pink-flowering dogwood trees is the Cherokee Princess cultivar of Cornus florida, which puts on a spectacular hot pink bloom each year against its reddish-green spring foliage. It has a more uniform, upright pyramidal shape than a standard flowering dogwood when mature.

For those preferring a more subtle pastel pink tone, the Kousa cultivar called ‘Satomi’ offers a graceful horizontal branching habit with large delicate pink blooms each spring followed by loads of ornamental red fruit that persists into summer. Its leaves emerge tinged with hints of raspberry color before turning green for the summer.

No matter which types of dogwood you prefer, all of them provide multi-season beauty, ornamental features, and incredible versatility in the landscape or garden. From towering specimens to compact foundation shrubs, dogwoods will elevate your outdoor spaces while supporting local pollinator and wildlife populations. It’s easy to see why these gorgeous trees and shrubs remain so beloved by gardeners and landscapers alike!

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