Of all the trees in the forest… We love you the most! So goes the sentiment of most gardeners, hikers, and wildflower enthusiasts. Virginia’s state wildflower is a tree known to everyone as the Flowering Dogwood – Cornus florida. Other states have adopted the Dogwood as their state tree and as I searched for a front yard landscape feature in my new home, I began researching different Dogwoods. Various literature mentions up to sixty varieties of Dogwood from around the world, but I could only choose one. The name “Dogwood” itself was confusing and one of the more interesting derivation stories is that “Dog” is actually a corruption of “Dag”, a medieval short form of “dagger”, the short knife used by knights in close combat. It seems the handles of daggers were best made from the dense wood of the Dogwood tree or “Dagwood”. Whatever its source, the Dogwood has a beautiful Spring blossom consisting of four white bracts surrounding a center of small, yellow true flowers.
My research discovered that there are four subgroups of the genus “Cornus“. The first is the one we all know – the “big bracted dogwoods” of which the common White Dogwood is the best example. A cousin in this group is the Pacific Dogwood which actually has six bracts and white center flowers.
The Kousa Dogwood is a native of Japan and easily grown in the US. The blooms emerge only after the leaves have unfolded making it a late Spring bloomer and creating a contrast of white blooms against dark green foliage.
The second subgroup of Dogwoods are the “blue or white-fruited Dogwoods”. Keeping in mind that the Big-Bract Dogwoods above are red-fruited, seeing a blue or white fruit for the first time is a mild shock but an easy identifier. Perhaps the best example from this large sub-group is the Alternate Leafed Dogwood which is common in eastern woodlands.
A third subgroup of the Dogwood family is the “Cornelian Cherry” which has members in Europe and east Asia. The Cornelian Cherry Dogwood actually has yellow blossoms – yes it does – with fruit that gives it its name – bright red cherries!
We couldn’t get any further from our traditional understanding of Dogwood – could we? The fourth sub-group are the “Dwarf Dogwoods”. The Bunchberry or Canadian Dogwood looks like a traditional Dogwood with flower, leaf, and red fruit but is only a foot or two high and is native to Canada and our northern states.
Wow! – and there are dozens of more very interesting Dogwood varieties. But what about the pink or red flowering dogwood? Is it a native species? The most information I could find on Pink Dogwoods is that these are native variants which are uncommon but because of their immense popularity have been cultivated and promoted by nurserymen and are now striking front yard specimens.
In a discussion of Dogwoods, we can’t forget the two “colored stem” varieties which give us four season beauty. The two are Red Twig and Yellow Twig Dogwoods.
One of the wonderful side benefits of writing these articles on wildflowers is that I learn so much about wildflowers, bushes, and trees and can share that info with you. As we near the end of our state by state wildflower tour, I just wanted to express my thanks to everyone who encouraged me onward everyday. It has truly been an educational and fun journey! Let’s say good-by for now to Virginia and the Dogwood and head to our next state – Washington – which is home to one of my all time favorites – the Rhododendron.