The Dogwood Family: Four Season Beauty

The Dogwood Family: Four Season Beauty

The dogwood family (Cornus sp.) is widely considered to be among our most ornamental native trees and shrubs.

Dogwoods start the year with an explosion of beautiful blossoms in spring, and spend the summer as attractive small trees or shrubs. In fall, they put on a beautiful display of autumn color and bright red berries, which linger into winter. Winter also highlights the beautiful red bark of native dogwood species such as the Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea).

In addition to its ornamental qualities, dogwood is also an excellent wildlife tree. Dozens of species of birds, including wild turkey, quail, and many songbirds, enjoy the berries, as do mammals such as whitetail deer and squirrels.

The most popular species for home landscaping include the classic Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), Pacific Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii), Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia), and the Red Osier Dogwood. The best dogwoods for wildlife include the less showy Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum) and Roughleaf Dogwood (Cornus drummondii).

Other native dogwoods include:

  • Toughleaf dogwood (Cornus asperifolia)
  • Bunchberry dogwood (Cornus canadensis)
  • Stiff dogwood (Cornus foemina)
  • Brown dogwood (Cornus glabrata)
  • Gray Dogwood (Cornus racemosa)
  • Roundleaf dogwood (Cornus rugosa)
  • Blackfruit dogwood (Cornus sessilis)
  • Western cordilleran bunchberry (Cornus unalaschkensis)

The Flowering Dogwood and Pacific Dogwood are being ravaged by Dogwood anthracnose, a Eurasian fungus, in many states. Efforts are underway to breed blight-resistant native cultivars. Homeowners can fight it by pruning dead branches and twigs, improving air circulation and soil drainage around dogwood trees, and planting new trees in sunny spots with good air circulation.

There are several Eurasian dogwood species that seem to be resistant to the blight and share some of the wildlife benefits of native dogwoods. These include Japanese Dogwood (Cornus kousa) and Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas), which is used to make sauces, preserves, and other foods for humans in Europe.

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