Dogwoods are woody, flowering shrubs that belong to the genus Cornus. They are well-loved for their year-round visual display in any landscape. They flower during spring and produce colorful berries during spring. Some hybrid species even have colorful stems that are loved for a winter display.
If you are thinking of using dogwood trees to enliven your landscape, you must be aware of some of the types of dogwood trees that you could check out. In this post, we will round them up for you so read on.
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Before we get to the types of dogwood trees and other care and growing instructions for this one, here first are some dogwood facts that you should know about.
- It belongs to the Cornaceae family which includes 60 other species ranging from deciduous shrubs, perennial sub shrubs and woody evergreens.
- The dogwood is the state tree of several American states: North Carolina, Missouri, and Virginia.
- In Native American beliefs and customs, the blooming of dogwood flowers signifies the start of corn planting.
- According to Christian folk beliefs, the dogwood was the wood used for Christ’s crucifixion.
- Timber from dogwood is essential in many industries. They are used for wheel construction, machine bearings, shuttles, and golf clubs, among others.
- The roots of dogwood are boiled to create red, yellow, and black dyes.
- The whole dogwood plant supports bird wildlife. There are at least 36 species of birds that thrive on dogwood fruits.
- The ‘flowers’ on dogwood trees are not really flowers but are actually bracts.
- In olden times, dogwood bark is boiled for tea and is used in treating yellow fever and malaria.
- In the Victorian era, the dogwood was given to unmarried women to show signs of affection. Keeping it means mutual feelings and returning it conveyed rejection.
- Dogwoods have a lifespan of 80 years.
Why is it called dogwood?
There are different stories as to why this shrub is called dogwood. The first one is that it comes from the dagge, a Celtic word for a pointed wooden tool. It is well referenced in Celtic history as one of the few woods specifically chosen to make wooden tools.
The name is also said to have come from ancient folk veterinary remedies since the bark of the dogwood has been widely used to treat dogs’ mange. Some also attribute it during the colonial period when a lot of dogs died by eating the fallen berries of the dogwood tree.
The bark of dogwoods is identifiable for their scaly and exfoliating look. They come in tan and gray colors with cracks that make it look like an alligator skin. This is one of its unique characteristics that make it a good winter landscaping shrub.
The signature dogwood leaf has an oval shape, elongated and veined. The edges are smooth and generally have a glossy look. The leaves are arranged in opposite directions although they are alternately patterned too.
The flowers of dogwood shrubs/trees are often white in color, but flowering dogwoods have more colorful flower displays. The color ranges from pink, yellow and yellow green flowers, among others. The flowers are also always surrounded with white bracts. They bloom in clusters specifically from mid-March to May.
The fruits of dogwoods come in different shapes, sizes, and colors. Most dogwood berries are bright red in color, but some also come in dark blue, purple black, white and rarely, gray. Some are edible to humans, but most are edible to birds. Some are poisonous, endangering pets and other animals.
Dogwood tree identification
When it comes to dogwood tree identification, there are two characteristics to spot. One is the alligator-like bark texture and second would be oval shaped, elongated, and prominently veined leaves that change into purple red color during fall. You can also identify its berries during summer.
17 Types of dogwood trees
There are 17 types of species of dogwood trees out there and we will cover them all in this section. This can help you in narrowing down your choice of what dogwood tree to use for specific spots in your landscape.
1. Canadian bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)
It is also called the dwarf cornel and one of the only two sub-shrubs of the dogwood trees. This means that it dies back during winter at ground level and re-grow from the bud. It does not grow that tall (just 4-6-inches) but spreads fast in rhizomes.
They have very glossy, dark green leaves (that turn to red in the summer and purple in the fall). It also has faint leaf veins and white flowers that will turn into edible red berries in the summer.
2. Common dogwood (Cornus sanguinea)
It also goes by the name of blood twig because of the reddish glow of young common dogwoods. They grow in multiple stems that turn to dull green in maturity. It is identifiable for its elliptical to oval shape leaves, cream-colored flowers, and black-blue fruits.
While the fruits are edible, they leave a bad taste. The leaves have faint veins, and they are fast-growing dogwood species, so they must be pruned regularly. They grow to up to 15ft but also have dwarf varieties.
3. Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas)
Also called the European cornel, it is considered as one of the earliest bloomers of all dogwoods growing to up to 15ft. They first bloom yellow flowers in spring, followed by oval, prominently veined leaves that grow long to 4-inches. In the summer, edible red berries.
They can only be harvested once they have fallen into the ground. The red berries can be turned into sauces, pickles, jams, liquors, and other preserves.
4. Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida)
This small deciduous shrub is well-loved for its high ornamental value. It is the state tree of North Carolina and offers a beautiful spring display for its white, pink, and red flowers made whimsical by its branching habit and a flat crown.
Its dark green, veined leaves turn purplish red in the fall. It grows in between 15-20ft. They might need regular pruning, however, since they are prone to dogwood anthracnose.
5. Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa)
It is a small, multi-stem shrub that comes with many names (Japanese/Chinese/Korean dogwood). During spring, it profusely blooms clusters of yellow green flowers in the spring, followed by pinkish-red berries in the summer. Its oval and veined leaves turn purplish red in the fall.
It is most identifiable for its gray-tan bark with an exfoliating, mottled look ready for the winter. It grows to just 8ft and is native to Eastern Asia.
6. Gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa)
Growing from rhizomes, this is also called the swamp dogwood because it thrives in thickets along swamps and riverbanks. It blooms white flowers and then grayish-white by white berries. The berries are edible for birds but are toxic to humans.
It has lancing, veined leaves that turn purple-red in the fall. Annually, the orange-brown bark peels and as it matures and then turns into gray at maturity.
7. Mountain dogwood (Cornus nuttallii)
This one is a medium-sized dogwood and is also called the Pacific dogwood. It is loved for its high tolerance to shade and drought conditions. It has a noticeable cluster of large white flowers changing into yellow, red, or orange in the fall. Its fruits are red to bright orange.
This dogwood can grow to up to 75ft when maintained well. It is native to Western North America particularly in California, Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and British Columbia.
8. Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)
It is one of the most identifiable dogwoods because of the alternating pattern of its leaves. It can be multi-stemmed or can be pruned to condition a single-stem growth.
It gets its ‘pagoda’ name from its flat crown and branches that grow in layers. It grows between 15-25ft tall and its most beautiful variegated species is the ‘Argentea’.
9. Red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea)
It is a medium-size dogwood which also goes by the name of red osier dogwood. It is a landscape standout with its green stems that turn into red by summer to fall and then brightens more as winter comes. Its green, veined leaves also turn from green to red orange in the summer and purple in the fall.
And then it blooms small, white flowers followed by white berries that are only edible to birds. It grows to up to 12ft.
10. Rough leaf dogwood (Cornus drummondii)
It is called as such because of its coarse hairs on the leaves. It thrives well in sunny areas and forms clusters by growing from suckers. It is a hardy dogwood, with small white flowers and yellow green berries after.
It also has the signature oval, veined leaves of the dogwood and turns purplish red by fall. It grows between 6-15ft and is a native of Eastern North America.
11. Stiff dogwood (Cornus foemina)
It is in between a large shrub and a small tree. It has glossy, drooping, oval and veined leaves that turn red-purple in the fall. It blooms clusters of small, white flowers that turn burgundy in the fall. However, the flowers produce a foul smell. It grows from 15-25ft and thrives in full sunlight to partial shade.
12. Swedish cornel (Cornus suecica)
This is the second subshrub of the only two in the dogwood family. They are found in swamps and boggy areas. It blooms small, deep-purple flowers with white bracts. They are used as ground cover but only for mountainous or alpine landscapes. It grows to just 8-inches and is native to the Arctic regions.
13. Yellow twig dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’)
They are more shrubs than trees and are used for ornamental purposes. Their decorative yellow stems offer a visual impact in backyards. During spring, they bloom tiny, white flowers. It is followed by inedible yellow green fruits. The whole shrub turns bright green in the summer and bright yellow in the fall up to winter.
14. Giant dogwood (Cornus controversa)
This one is native to Asia, specifically in the Himalayas. It is also called the wedding cake tree and grows to more than 50ft. It sports dark green, veined, oval leaves, tiny, white flowers, and black, inedible fruits. The leaves turn purplish red. They are mostly seen in large estates as well as in parks.
15. Siberian dogwood (Cornus alba)
Also called as the white dogwood, this one is categorized as a surculose shrub up to a small tree. It is a decorative shrub because of its bright red stems during fall and winter. For summer and spring, it sports a whitish-green foliage with white rims. The white flowers are flat and tiny. They are followed by blue or white fruits in the summer.
16. Silky dogwood (Cornus amomum)
It goes by many names including red willow, squawbush and its Native American name, kinnikinnik. It is a deciduous shrub which grows to 16ft. It has the signature dogwood foliage of oval, veined leaves that are bright green in the spring and turn purple red in the fall. It has flashy, tiny, white flowers with blueberry-like fruits in the summer.
17. Himalayan dogwood (Cornus capitata)
This one is an evergreen dogwood, and it is also known as the Himalayan strawberry tree or Bentham’s cornel. It is native to lower woodlands of Asia and Australia. It grows to an impressive height of 40ft, with lancing, gray-green leaves. It produces clusters of tiny, white flowers in the spring and red fruits in the summer.
Dogwood tree care guide
So how do you properly grow and take care of your dogwood tree? Here are some of the tree care tips of the dogwood that you should master.
- Planting time: The best time to plant dogwoods would be during springtime when there is enough moisture to aid root growth. They must be planted in spots where they get full sunlight and partial shade.
- Watering: Like most deciduous shrubs, dogwoods are resilient. You must water young dogwood trees regularly but once the roots are established, they just must be watered in shorter intervals during dry spells.
- Soil: Dogwoods thrive in moist and well-drained soils. They also fare best in acidic soils.
- Fertilizer: These shrubs are hardy, and they thrive even without fertilizers. As a matter of fact, fertilizing during the first season after planting is discouraged. Young dogwoods are sensitive, and they can die off due to excess fertilizing.
- Mulching: Dogwoods can benefit from mulching once in a while. The best mulching for this tree/shrub would be organic mulching, specifically straw or organic compost. The use of coffee grounds and Epsom salt could also improve dogwood growth.
- Pruning: Dogwoods do not generally require pruning except for some flowering dogwood species and fast-growing ones. However, part of its regular maintenance would be removing dead leaves and branches. Pruning should be done in summer to prevent messy sap bleeding.
- Pests and diseases: The most common pests and diseases that attack the dogwood tree would be dogwood anthracnose, powdery mildew, dogwood borer and scales. Deer could also chew on the leaves of the dogwood tree which can be a nuisance if they are well taken care of in the landscape.
Aside from the different types of dogwoods, there are also essential FAQs that you should be acquainted with. They can come in handy especially when you start caring for your own dogwood in the home’s landscape.
Flowering dogwood vs kousa dogwood
The only difference between a flowering dogwood and a kousa dogwood would be their bloom time and their rate of invasiveness. Flowering dogwoods bloom two to three weeks earlier than kousa making the former a better choice for spring landscapes while the latter for fall to winter landscapes. In terms of invasiveness, kousa dogwoods are more invasive and messier during bloom time compared to flowering dogwoods.
Other than this, they have the same care requirements. They also have a comparable height, but flowering dogwoods come in a variety of colors while the kousa just often come in white flowers. The types of kousa dogwood include Gold Star, Temple Jewel, and Wolf Eyes.
Are there hybrid dogwood trees?
Yes. The flowering dogwood and the kousa dogwood are hybrid dogwoods. Other cultivars or variegations of hybrid dogwood trees would be the: Stardust, Celestial, and Stellar Pink.
Do dogwoods attract bees?
Dogwoods are the favorite of pollinators and not just of birds. Dogwoods also attract bees and other pollinating insects, specifically the spring azure butterflies. Dogwoods provide a steady supply of nectar that pollinators feed on. Other mammals like squirrels also feast on dogwood, feeding on their buds before they bloom tiny flowers.
If you are suddenly interested about the other types of animals that thrive on the presence of dogwoods, it would be the following:
- American crow
- Wild turkey
- Red fox
Are there considered wild dogwood species?
Yes, and there are just two of them: the red osier dogwood and the Pacific dogwood. Red osiers are usually found in coastal regions while the Pacific redwood is mostly found in highland regions.
What are the most beautiful flowering dogwoods?
If you are hooked with the visual display of flowering dogwoods, you should start checking out the following flowering dogwood species:
- Sweetwater red
- Cherokee Chief
- Cherokee Princess
- First Lady
- Cloud 9
- Red Beauty
How fast do dogwood trees grow?
Dogwoods have a slow to moderate growth rate. They can stack up a 20-ft growth in 25 years. Height ranges also vary depending on where it is grown. Flowering dogwoods grown under full sunlight usually grow to just about 20ft while those grown under full shade can grow to more than 40ft.
What can I plant under a dogwood tree?
In curating a landscape where the dogwood is the focal point, the following plants are its best companions:
|Spring landscape||All-season landscape||Companion trees||Companion shrubs|
|Cranesbill||Day lily||Red maples||Arborvitae|
|Sweet woodruff||Bearded iris||Pin oaks||Juniper|
|Heath||Creeping myrtle||Dawn redwood||Summer sweet|
|Allium||Sedum||Bald cypresses||Highbush blueberries|
|Fountain grass or maiden grass|
Can I keep the dogwood small?
Yes, through pruning. To keep them short, all upright branches should be pruned by one-third annually. But if you do not want to do pruning regularly to keep the size and shape intact, you might just as well choose dwarf dogwoods like bunchberries or the Canadian dwarf cornel.
Are dogwoods poisonous to dogs?
At some point, it was believed that dogwoods are poisonous to dogs due to the incidences of dog death during the colonial period due to dogwood berry ingestion. However, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, no species of dogwood trees have ever been reported to be poisonous to dogs.
Do dogwoods grow well in Ohio?
There are only two dogwoods that thrive well in Ohio: flowering dogwoods and the Kousa dogwood. Flowering dogwoods bloom profusely in the area from April to May while Kousa dogwoods bloom from May to June.
How far away from the house should you plant a dogwood tree?
As per rule of thumb, small or dwarf dogwoods should be planted as close as 6ft to the house but should be 20ft apart from each other. Medium to large size dogwoods should be at least 15ft away from the house and must be planted 35ft apart.
Dogwoods come in a variety of types that serve different ornamental functions to any type of landscape. From its showy foliage, stems and tiny flowers, dogwoods surely offer an interesting contrast and a year-round visual display in the yard. They are easy to care for too, which is a major plus. To this end, you must just choose the best dogwood for you.
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