Sunday, May 27, 2012

Out of the Ordinary Dogwoods

Those of us that grew up in the south are very familiar with the tree known as flowering dogwood (Cornus florida). The large white bloom is one of the iconic flowers of the southeastern United States. Many people don't realize that there are other shrubs and small trees in the same genus which are native to Georgia.  Other family members include alternate leaf dogwood (Cornus alternifolia), silky dogwood (Cornus amomum), toughleaf dogwood (Cornus asperifolia), swamp dogwood (Cornus foemina), and rough dogwood (Cornus drummondii).  In the northeastern areas of the U.S. there are even more native species of dogwood, many of which are commonly used in landscaping there.

Silky dogwood, Cornus amomum
The floral structure of the "other" dogwoods is quite different from that of flowering dogwood. Each inflorescence is composed of several dozen small flowers.

Each pollinated flower will turn into a small berry, often a round, blue-colored berry which is quite unlike the red fruits borne by Cornus florida.

Cornus amomum

Berries, Cornus amomum

By chance this week I passed a large group of silky dogwood on a rural roadside. It was loaded with flowers in various stages of bloom: some had faded and seeds were forming, while others were still in tight buds.  Obviously growing in ideal conditions (adequate moisture and full sun), it was a beautiful sight and pollinators were all over it. It was a very exciting find for me - I had never seen this species in flower before.  I plan to return in the late summer to see the berries.

Cornus amomum

The only other dogwood that I've successfully grown in my yard (so far!) is alternate leaf dogwood (Cornus alternifolia). The name is significant because other dogwoods have oppositely arranged leaves. Branches on this species are often elegantly arranged in tiers, earning it yet another common name: pagoda dogwood. The glossy foliage is very handsome. This species makes a fine small tree.

Cornus alternifolia
Look at this great foliage!

I hope to get more familiar with other species over time. Several of them are very wet tolerant - especially swamp dogwood, I have seen it growing in standing water. The birds love the berries of course and the flowers attract many small insects for birds to feed their chicks.  You should consider adding one of these other dogwoods to your garden.

Flowering dogwood, Cornus florida
By the way, the large flowers of Cornus florida are made up of four showy white bracts with a cluster of small flowers in the center. 


  1. I had no idea Pagoda Dogwood is a native tree, I assumed "pagoda" suggested an Asian origin, like a pagoda roof. Thanks for clearing that up for me :)

  2. We have silky dogwood here too but interestingly it is not propagated and sold very often. It tends to like acidic bog margins so perhaps the northern version is not as suitable for home landscapes. I love the Pagoda Dogwood, we have a couple in our yard. Can't be that layered form.

  3. These native dogwoods are hugely important to migratory birds from the eastern seaboard to the prairie. And they are great for areas that aren't full sun! Need to see more of them around!

  4. Hello Ellen,
    We are creating an interpretive trail for visitors featuring native species used by local indigenous people. The picture of Cornus alternifolia is great. I'd like to know if we could have permission to use it.
    Karin Davidson-Taylor, Education Officer
    Royal Botanical Gardens, Burlington/Hamilton, Ontario