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Treasure Dogwoods During The Spring
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
American writer Joyce Kilmer may be most famous for his poem "Trees." I have often wondered what tree, if any, the New Jersey native was thinking about when he wrote that famous poem.
The tree that most assuredly is causing the traveler to pause now and gaze at her beauty is the dogwood. The bloom of the dogwood alone should make you want at least one for your yard, if not several.
The native dogwood is known botanically as Cornus florida and just happens to be native to New Jersey, too! Cornus comes from the Latin word meaning tough wood. Many think they are looking at the flower when they see that brilliant white shimmering in the forest. The white is actually a bract, similar to the red part of the poinsettia.
The dogwood offers us much more than just brightly reflective blossoms. The reddish-orange fall leaf color make it one of the top five tree species in our area. The bright red fruit that goes almost unnoticed by gardeners is devoured by 28 species of birds including turkey and quail. White-tailed deer and squirrels also find the fruit tasty.
While it can be dug from the wild, you will be much better off buying a containerized nursery grown tree, which are in abundance right now. Place yours in a well-drained bed and combine with azaleas. In fact, it really makes sense to prepare that bed for new azaleas and include a dogwood. Dogwoods cannot tolerate wet feet.
The dogwood is one of our best small trees for the urban landscape, reaching 20 to 30 feet tall and as wide. They are ideal as understory trees to large deciduous trees or pines, and appreciate protection from the scorching afternoon sun. Good air movement through the area helps keep foliage dry and lessen foliar diseases.
It seems almost cruel to see gardeners simply stick a new dogwood in the middle of a full sun yard of tight clay and encroaching turf. This most likely will result in a negative opinion of a great tree.
One thing that may surprise you is the number of varieties on the market. One of my favorite books lists more than 90 varieties of Cornus florida, or the eastern flowering dogwood. Although you won't see all 90 for sale at your favorite garden center, you may find selections of pink and red dogwoods that are way underused in our area, in addition to named white varieties.
Cherokee Brave, Cherokee Chief and Cherokee Sunset are just a few of these. Pink Autumn, Pink Flame and Pink Sachet are other well-known selections of pink flowered dogwoods, and there are dozens of others. But it is a rare road I travel when I see them blooming in someone's landscape in Mississippi.
While I am partial to the native dogwood Cornus florida, another gaining popularity is the Cornus kousa dogwood. There are almost as many named available varieties of kousa as the florida. They are not prone to as many diseases, and bloom about three weeks after the native dogwood. Adding some will prolong your dogwood season.