Flowering Dogwood – The Cornus Trees of Variety

Cornus the Dogwood in flower


Each Spring the beauty of the white flowering dogwood comes to us as a fresh experience. The flattened spreading branches whiten the woodlands in May, and in the Autumn give us glorious color in the leaves and berries.

Even before the leaves drop in the Autumn the round buds of next year’s bloom appear.

In the Spring, when the buds begin to swell, the reddish bracts develop, not into a corolla as we might expect, but into four white flags which surround and draw our attention to the small greenish flowers, where on each tiny ovary nectar is secreted, and is eagerly sought by bees and butterflies.

Just before going South the robins seem to lose all self-control, and gobble the red berries until none are left for Winter.
There are many shrub Cornus, the red-osier, Cornus stolonifera, is one known by its purplish red twigs, and “kinnikinnick,” Cornus amomum, often called Indian tobacco.

Cornus paniculata is a very pretty shrub, with smooth gray branches. It is a white-fruited species, each small fruit on a pink stem. In June the bush is striking with many loose clusters of white flowers. We have this shrub growing on our place.

It flourishes in deep, damp soil, but in spite of its many attractive qualities, it is not wholly to be recommended for planting, as it has a way of taking over the whole territory where it grows. It is excellent for a bird sanctuary, as the birds delight in the white berries.

Perhaps the most charming dogwood of them all is the dwarf Cornus, or bunchberry. It used to flourish near Boston, but is now seldom found. Fortunately it still forms beautiful ground covers in northern woods.

There is a pink flowering dogwood, Cornus florida rubra, cultivated since 1731. It combines beautifully with the white variety.

Moving Dogwood Trees?

Question My friends tell me that I will have to wait until March to move my young dogwoods. Is this correct?

Answer No, you can move dogwoods anytime during their dormant season. If the trees are small you can handle them bare-root, but dig up all the roots carefully and replant immediately. Be sure the roots do not dry out while they are out of the ground.

Companion Plants

Azaleas and dogwoods are companion plants in gardens in many parts of our country, and well they should be, for generally speaking, they are abundant producers of bloom.

To be sure, the exotic species and varieties of azaleas occasionally have their buds nipped by unanticipated frosts, and the dogwoods have an occasional “off” year. But, for the most part, these are stable plants and good companions, too.

The dogwoods give forth with Autumn color and fruits that delight the birds, and the evergreen azaleas, and those that lose their leaves, contribute to the pageant of Autumn color also.

Colorful pink Azalea in flower

In Winter the branches of the dogwoods make pleasant shadows against the snow or tracery against the sky when soft feathery moisture comes fluttering down.

Azaleas, also, in their various forms of twig and foliage character, are plants of year-round interest. More and more we are learning to select, plant and arrange our gardens to be appealing through all the seasons.

Flowering Tatarian Dogwood

In selecting plant for decorative winter effects, do not limit your list to evergreens; a number of deciduous trees and shrubs are also outstanding for their beauty in winter.

One of these, Tatarian dogwood, Cornus alba, has bright red or purplish branches which stand out with great effectiveness in winter sunshine.

A native of eastern Siberia, Manchuria and northern Korea, Tatarian dogwood is a vigorous shrub with erect or spreading branches and a more brilliant coloration than that of our native red-osier, Cornus stolonifera, the North American counterpart of the Asiatic species.

Dogwood shrub Cornus alba

The native dogwood, Cornus stolonifera, has a tendency to produce low branches which arch to the ground and root at the tips.

Its uniformly bright red bark is dotted with widely scattered corky lenticels or breathing pores; when sectioned the branches show soft white pith.

While the pointed ovate leaves of the American species taper gradually to the acute point at the apex, the leaves of Tatarian dogwood usually curve to a more abrupt point. The berrylike fruits of both species are whitish, but the seeds within are differently shaped.

Red-osier fruits have almost round seeds slightly pointed at the top, while the seeds of the Asiatic dogwood are ellipsoid and pointed at both ends. The shape of these seeds is considered the final word in distinguishing these species.

These details make little difference in the garden picture. Any evenly red-branched cornel growing wild in North America can usually he assumed safely enough to be the native red-osier or the more hairy-leaved Bailey dogwood, Cornus baileyi.

Tatarian dogwoods and their varieties are found mostly in gardens and nurseries and nearby areas where seeds have been distributed by birds.

Flowers and Berries

The flowers of the Asiatic group are not showy, lacking the spectacular petal-like bracts which make the flowering dogwoods so much admired. The blooms of Tatarian dogwood are white, crowded in rounded clusters from 1 to 3 inches across.

As they are produced in late spring, when there is keen competition for floral prizes, it is not surprising that they do not command particular attention. The white berries which follow, usually a little less than 1/4 inch across, make an unusual feature in late summer, and birds seem fully appreciative of the juicy morsels these offer.

In the typical form of Tatarian dogwood the new growth remains a uniform bright red, but in one variety (Kesselringii) it is a striking dark purple.

The coloring is somewhat obscured during the growing season by the large leaves, but when these fall the beauty of the branches grows more and more impressive. Specimens are seen to best advantage against a dark background, as at the edge of a pond or in front of evergreens.

The effect of a single plant or a small group viewed against pines or hemlocks at the corner of a lawn is especially good. For a combination occupying less space, but offering the same rich contrast, use yew, arborvitae or juniper for the evergreen note.

In most cases it is desirable to use small, fine-textured plants in foundation plantings, but the pleasure of looking from a window in winter directly into a pattern of the brilliant red- branches makes such a rule seem rather academic and “made to he broken.”

Whether the picture through the branches is soft new snow or a shimmering crust of ice, or fresh green grass, it will be full of artistry. Naturally, a Tatarian dogwood should not be planted by every window, but two or three properly planted where they can be seen easily from dining room and kitchen will give a great deal of pleasure.

New Growth

These shrubs, which may grow to 10 feet, are fast-growing; shoots from the base often surpass 4 feet the first year. Since the new growth has the most brilliant coloration, it is desirable to encourage its development.

To prevent old bushes from becoming dense and tangled, it is best to cut out 3- and 4-year-old branches as near the ground as possible. This can be done to good advantage in late winter. In home gardens it is advisable to keep specimens down to 5 or 6 feet in height.

Without systematic thinning to encourage new growth from the base, Tatarian dogwoods may become too large for fine locations where they can be best enjoyed.

Aside from this yearly pruning, they require little attention; few shrubs are of easier culture. They may be planted at any time, and they thrive in any moderately fertile soil and any fairly open situation.

Notably poor and deficient soils do not give good results, nor are shady locations satisfactory for these shrubs.

A Few Varieties

A number of varieties of Tatarian dogwood are available in nurseries, including the one with dark purplish branches, variety kesselringii. Siberian dogwood, variety sibirica, has branches of a lighter coral red and is perhaps even more decorative than the typical form.

Several clones have variegated foliage; of these, variety spaethi is outstanding, with its leaves edged in clear yellow. The bright green-branched cornets occasionally seen are varieties of Cornus stolonifera or Cornus sanguinea.

While these are attractive when space is available, they seem less effective in home gardens than the red-branched dogwoods. Other inexpensive shrubs rarely offer decorative qualities which can be enjoyed so thoroughly during the winter months.


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