When we mention dogwoods, most folks think of our provincial flower that comes from the native dogwood, ‘Cornus nuttallii’ or the beautiful pink ‘floridas’. Actually, the dogwood family is large and quite diverse.
‘Cornus’ is the Latin word for shrub. Specific names are given according to individual characteristics, or some varieties are named after breeders. ‘Cornus sanguinea’, for example, was so named because its bark is red. Dogwoods have been known by such colourful common names as ‘Bloody Twig’, ‘Wild Cornel’, ‘Dogberry’, ‘Hound’s Tooth’ and ‘Gater Tree’.
In the landscape, the dogwood family is very useful. ‘Cornus mas’ (Cornelian Cherry) is first to bloom. In February and March, it bursts into masses of clustered, small yellow blossoms.
One of the most popular shrub dogwoods is ‘Cornus alba’ (Tatarian Dogwood). Most varieties are hardy throughout the province. My favourite new bush dogwood, however, is ‘Cornus Midwinter Fire’, with its chartreuse leaves and yellow and red coloured bark that lights up any winter garden.
I’m truly fond of our ‘nuttallii’ (Western Dogwood) and ‘floridas’ (Eastern Dogwood) varieties but unfortunately, they are having some problems with crown canker and dogwood leaf blotch, diseases related to wet weather. Until weather patterns swing back to drier springs on the Coast, plant all of these varieties in very well-drained areas and preferably, in among other trees. Also, keep the kids away from the trunks, especially if they happen to be pushing a lawn mower. If the bark is damaged, disease can set in and spread more easily.
In wet weather regions, I’ve really been impressed with the performance of two varieties. One is ‘Cornus kousa’. This multi-stemmed dogwood is native to Japan and Korea and is hardy to zone three. Growing 20 feet high, it blooms in June and July with delightful flowers which turn into huge red edible raspberry-like hips in the fall. Its autumn colouring is a knockout, and the other big bonus is its disease resistance. Today, there are many varieties of ‘kousa’ that truly are magnificent.
The most popular of all dogwoods are the pink florida types. There are quite a few varieties, and all look stunning. They will simply ‘pop’ with colour in your yard.
‘Eddie’s White Wonder’ is Vancouver’s centennial tree. It has four to five inch flowers at the ends of slightly pendulous branches and stunning red fall colour – it’s a winner!