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It’s difficult to find a native tree with more pleasing attributes than white flowering dogwood. In March, a profusion of long-lasting white bracts fill the tiered branches, followed by attractive green leaves and bright red fruits in summer. The fruits are mildly toxic to humans but highly valuable to wildlife. Brilliant, scarlet-purple fall foliage and alligator-like bark extend interest through fall and winter. A small, deciduous ornamental, dogwood is a hardy and adaptable understory tree, growing in sun or part shade and in a variety of well-drained soils. If sited in shadier conditions, it will reach for the sun and become tall and scraggly. Full sun will ensure that the tree has a more graceful appearance with low, horizontal branches and a rounded crown. Its name is derived from the Latin words cornu, meaning “horn,” and flos, meaning “flowery.”  


A Christian legend regarding the tree tells of the dogwood’s distress when its sturdy wood was used in the crucifixion of Jesus.  Thereafter, it displayed four petal-like bracts in the shape of a cross, bearing indentations of “nail dents” and smudges of pink “bloodstains.”  


Dogwoods are commonly found in the understories and along the edges of wooded slopes and forests.  They excel as focal points in native gardens, planted in groups near patios, along the backs of borders, and in butterfly and pollinator gardens. Plant five feet apart to create a screen with four-season visual appeal.


Plant Characteristics:

Grows 15-25’ tall with a spread of 15-20’.


Prefers at least half-day of full sun. If sited in full sun, may need watering during dry spells.


Thrives in average to moist, rich, acidic soil, but adapts to many soil types if well-drained.


Smooth green leaves have distinctive pattern in which veins run nearly parallel to margins. Can be single or multi-stemmed with light-gray bark on young trees.  Bark darkens and breaks into squarish, rectangular blocks as the tree matures.  


Wildlife Value:

Dogwood is a host plant for 111 species of Lepidoptera larvae, including some of our showiest silkmoths: the royal walnut, crocus geometer, imperial, polyphemus along with four other specialist moths that feed exclusively on dogwood.  Native and specialist bees, honey bees, and several species of beetles and flies visit the flowers.  Over 36 species of birds eat the drupes, along with chipmunks, foxes, squirrels, skunks, rabbits, deer, and beavers. Creates valuable understory habitat.


Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

The bark, rich in tannins, was made into a tea and used as a substitute for quinine by desperate doctors during the Civil War.  A bark decoction was used to treat mouth problems, and the leaves were used as a poultice to cover wounds.  Native Americans used the bark and roots as a remedy for malaria.  The twigs were used to brush and whiten teeth.


Native Americans made a red dye from the roots and bark to stain porcupine quills and eagle feathers.  The hard wood was prized for making weaving shuttles, spools, mallet heads, and small pulleys.  

Dogwood, White Flowering, Cornus florida

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