In April, flowering dogwood trees provide a candelabra of color in the Missouri landscape. Native trees in the woods of central and southern Missouri produce a spectacular display of layers of white “blossoms” in the spring. In the fall, these trees have beautiful scarlet foliage and produce ruby red fruits. These fruits are also a food source for birds during the winter. Because of these aesthetic qualities, the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) was declared Missouri’s state tree in 1955. While the true yellowish-green flowers clustered in the middle of bracts are not showy, the four petal-like white bracts form a beautiful inflorescence. On close inspection, there is often a distinct notch on the margin of each bract.
Pink and red flowering dogwood trees are often used to provide color in home landscapes. Some of the recommended pink cultivars include Prairie Pink and Cherokee Brave. If you prefer deep red bracts, Cherokee Chief is a good choice. Cloud 9 is a cultivar that produces a profusion of white bracts. A mixture of these cultivars produces a spectacular display of color after a dreary winter. Most dogwood cultivars produce a 20 to 25 ft. tree height at maturity.
Establishing flowering dogwood trees in the home landscape can be a bit tricky. Dogwoods are best suited to shady areas or on the north or east side of a house. These trees favor a slightly acidic, well-drained soil. The application of a bark mulch underneath the tree helps maintain cool soil temperatures needed for tree establishment. Dogwoods also require watering during droughty periods, especially when the temperature exceeds 90ºF. In cool, wet springs, symptoms of anthracnose may be observed on the floral bracts (“petals”) and on the leaves later in the season. Symptoms of anthracnose include circular lesions with purple boarders and lighter, almost white centers. During late spring or summer, the centers of the spots fall out, leaving a “shot-hole” appearance on the leaves. Dogwood borers can also be problematic in some years. The larvae feed on tissue underneath bark scales or on injured bark on the trunk of the tree. Symptoms of feeding include reddish-brown frass pushed outside a small tunnel held together with silk on the trunk. Usually control measures are not warranted for dogwood borers or anthracnose.
Another option would be to plant a hybrid cultivar of C. florida x C. kousa. Celestial, Arora, Constellation, Stardust, and Ruth Ellen produce whitebracts, while Stellar Pink has pale pink ones. All of these cultivars are purportedly resistant to anthracnose and dogwood borers. Thus, with a bit of care, dogwoods provide an interesting tree form and color in the landscape throughout the year.
REVISED: October 23, 2012