Blooms of the native tree flowering dogwood.

Expanding blooms of flowering dogwood. Photo: Miri Talabac

Updated: March 6, 2023

About flowering dogwood

Cornus florida
Deciduous tree
Dogwood family (Cornaceae)

Maryland Distribution: throughout the state; woodland understory and woods-edge habitat
Height: 20 to 30 feet tall
Flowers: four petal-like bracts, emerging greenish and becoming white when fully expanded (pink-flowered forms may emerge reddish); primarily April, sometimes into May; insect-pollinated (bees, beetles, flies, butterflies)
Fall color: red to purplish-red
Sun: part sun to shade; ideally a mix of sun with some afternoon shade
Soil: moist and well-drained; acidic

Garden Uses: Perhaps our most widely-recognized and popular small tree, it is commonly featured in area gardens. Dogwood trees provide multi-season interest: prominent spring flowers, showy berries and fall foliage, and textured trunks with twigs tipped in next year’s flower buds. They combine well with other woodland shrubs and perennial wildflowers.

Autumn leaf color develops relatively early in the season (especially if stressed by drought) and is long-lasting. Clusters of glossy red berries ripen in autumn and may persist into winter if not eagerly consumed by wildlife. Bark on older trunks develops a distinctive blocky, alligator hide-like texture.

While young trees tend to be somewhat upright and taller than wide, mature trees typically have a broad canopy with more horizontal branching, though some are fairly rounded in shape.

Partial sun promotes good flowering and boosts disease resistance while lessening stress from summer heat. Trees in more sun might bloom more heavily and have fewer leaf infections, but summer drought and heat can scorch leaves or result in chronic stress that predisposes them to other ailments. Trees in heavier shade will experience the opposite – potentially more fungal spotting in wet springs and sparser bloom while avoiding some heat stress.

Unlike some of their native shrubby cousins, flowering dogwoods are intolerant of poorly-drained or soggy soil. They similarly can decline in relatively dry soils or during recurring periods of drought if they cannot be irrigated as needed. Given their sensitivity to pollution, site trees away from roadways with idling vehicles, and avoid pavement that reflects heat and deprives roots of moisture.

When trimming is needed, wait until summer (to avoid removing next year’s flowers) or winter (to minimize a lot of sap “bleeding” from pruning cuts).

Cultivar notes:

  • Numerous cultivars exist, primarily selected for either larger bracts, pink bracts, or disease-resistant foliage (to powdery mildew, Elsinoë leaf spot, or Discula anthracnose). You may not find a single variety equally resistant to all of these diseases.
  • Some cultivars are hybrids with the Asian kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) and less frequently the western U.S. native Pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttallii). They are usually denoted with an x in the botanical name, such as Cornus x Venus™. Since these introductions originated from Rutgers University breeding work, they are often collectively referred to as “Rutgers hybrids.” To be certain you’re planting a variety of Cornus florida, investigate the parentage of unfamiliar varieties.

Wildlife: The high-energy berries support numerous migrating and resident birds, including thrushes, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, and Summer Tanager, plus feed small mammals like chipmunks. This is a host plant for the Spring Azure butterfly.

Growth habit of the native tree flowering dogwood.
Old specimen of a dogwood cultivar illustrating canopy shape. Although in full sun, the unlimited root space and occasional irrigation helps the tree avoid stress. Photo: Miri Talabac
Pink-flowered variety of flowering dogwood.
Pink-flowered cultivar in full bloom. Photo: Miri Talabac
Autumn leaf color and ripe berries on flowering dogwood.
Autumn display of ripe fruit and richly-colored foliage, plus next year’s flower buds already formed. Photo: Miri Talabac
Growth habit of flowering dogwood in the garden.
Dogwoods planted in a naturalistic setting along the edge of woods. Photo: Miri Talabac

Additional resources

Flowering Dogwood | Maryland Biodiversity Project gallery and distribution map

Compiled by: Miri Talabac, Horticulturist & Coordinator, Home & Garden Information Center. 2022

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