Not all these 45 species of dogwood trees (Cornus spp.) Indigenous to North America bear blooms and red grapes, however, also the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) fits the statement. The state tree of Missouri and Virginia, the flowering dogwood thrives in backyards in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 though 9. Attractive to butterflies and birds, it is arguably the most beautiful indigenous American flowering tree.


The flowering dogwood is a small tree, normally under 30 feet tall, common in woodlands throughout the eastern half of the country. When not in bloom, the tree blends inconspicuously into mixed forests, so far in the shortest trees in the wood but always lower in stature than the mighty beeches and oaks. It has a low-branching, pyramidal habit. You can determine a flowering dogwood by its bark, which bears geometrical patterns on a tough surface that looks like cracked mud. Its oval leaves have an elongated point at the tip. Most people realize a flowering dogwood by its own flowers.


The glory of the flowering dogwood is its flowers which light up the woodlands in spring. The flush of white starts as early as February with plants that are cultivated in backyard gardens, then slowly moves up to higher elevation until mountains and hills are in bloom. The easily-identified, starlike flowers are actually not blooms whatsoever but are four white bracts that surround the true dogwood blooms: miniature buttonlike clusters at the middle of the bracts. The bracts evolve out of small, green ovals to the glowing white petals 1 to 2 inches long. New cultivars have been developed that bear bracts in pink or red.


Dogwood flowers (these buttonlike clusters at the middle of the bracts) rely on insects for pollination. If pollination happens, the flowers develop into red grapes, each about 1/2 inch. The grasses hang in clusters beginning in early autumn and continuing to December. They are treasured by birds but are often described as toxic or toxic to humans. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Poison Control Center, nevertheless, lists dogwood berries as nonpoisonous strawberries. Even though it states that they are not toxic when consumed, the Center warns that rashes may develop after touching the fruit.


Flowering dogwoods endure from all of the usual disease suspects and a few specific to the genus. They have a tendency toward blight, powdery mildew, canker, bacterial leaf spot and root rot, and bring borers, weevils, aphids, scale insects and thrips. Far more serious is anthracnose, a disease affecting the leaves and inner bark. This infectious disease is taking its toll on native dogwoods, but anthracnose-resistant cultivars can be found in trade.

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