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Flowering dogwood is a small to medium woodland understory tree, native throughout most of the eastern United States. Showy white, red, or pink flowering bracts appear before the leaves in early spring. Dark green summer foliage turns a brilliant reddish-purple in fall.  It is sensitive to adverse soil and environmental conditions such as road salt and pollution. Best planted in acidic soil.

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.

  • Family (English) Dogwood
  • Family (botanic) Cornaceae
  • Planting site Residential and parks
  • Tree or plant type Tree
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Small tree (15-25 feet), Medium tree (25-40 feet)
  • Mature height 20-40 feet
  • Mature width 20 feet
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily), Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9
  • Soil preference Acid soil, Moist, well-drained soil
  • Season of interest mid spring, late spring, late summer, early fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Pink, Red, White
  • Shape or form Broad, Round
  • Growth rate Slow
  • Transplants well No
  • Planting considerations Intolerant of pollution
  • Wildlife Game birds, Insect pollinators, Small mammals, Songbirds
  • Has cultivars Yes

Native geographic location and habitat:

C-Value: 9. It is native to much of the eastern United States and is common in wooded areas.

Bark color and texture:

Its mature bark is gray-brown and blocky and when shed it reveals a dark inner bark.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture:

Leaves are opposite, simple, and rounded with a pointed tip. They are pale green with wavy leaf margins and veins growing toward the tip of the leaf without running to the edge.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size:

Flowers appear large because of the four white bracts. True flowers are clustered in the center of bracts. Flower buds are a small button-like bud at the tips of branches. Leaf buds are flattened and reddish in  color.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:

Clusters of bright red fruit ripen in July-August.

Plant care:

This tree tends to develop problems in heavy clay soil. It prefers acid soil and  gets chlorotic symptoms (pale green leaves) in high pH soils. It has a shallow root system and benefits from a few inches of mulch to moderate soil temperature fluctuations.  It is also beneficial to shelter the plant from wind. It is considered borderline hardy in the Chicago area and flowers on old wood so harsh winters can damage flower buds.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances:

Poorly drained soils, wind, salt, and drought stress predispose this plant to insect and disease problems. Borers and cankers are possible problems.  Anthracnose (Discula) is a very serious problem in some parts of the United States. However, it is tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

Some cultivars may be difficult to find in the nursery trade.

Cherokee Chief flowering dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Chief’):

This dogwood has an upright rounded habit reaching 20 feet high and wide with rose-red to ruby-red flowers.

Cloud 9 flowering dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Cloud 9’):

This cultivar is broadly rounded reaching 15 feet high and 20 feet wide with white flowers.

Dwarf Red flowering dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Red Pygmy’):

This is a dwarf form dogwood with an upright habit reaching 5 to 6 feet high and wide.  It has pinkish-red bracts and is good for containers.

Stellar Pink flowering dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Stellar Pink’):

This cultivar is rounded, growing 20 feet high and wide with pink flowers.

Sweetwater Red flowering dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Sweetwater Red’):

This is an upright, rounded cultivar reaching 20 feet high and 15 feet wide. Its reddish foliage turns to burgundy in the fall.


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