West Ga Chapter of GNPS
PO Box 635
Carrollton, GA 30112



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Cornus florida
    ( Cornus        florida )
Flowering dogwood, taken on December 1, 2004.
Photo Credit: Mike Strickland

Flowering dogwood, Cornus florida is recognized by most people and is a superb native alternative to the over-planted Bradford pear whose spring beauty, summer shade, and fall color become a stress point as the tree ages and the vertical, heavy branches begin to fall off the tree in huge chunks. Flowering dogwood, standing 20-40 ft., has a spreading crown and long-lasting, showy white and pink blooms in the spring. Smaller than the Bradford pear, a 10 year old Cornus florida stands about 16' with a short trunk and spreading, nearly horizontal branches. This branching creates a graceful and lovely display for the flowers in spring leading to bright red berries and in fall scarlet-red foliage. The buds for next year's flowers begin forming late fall and become more visible through the tree's leafless winter highlighting its black checkered bark. Summer is not this native's best season but the shade created by its often broader than tall form provides wonderful cooling. Many consider Cornus florida the most spectacular of the eastern native, flowering trees. Multi-trunked flowering dogwoods are not uncommon in the woods as fallen over trees sprout roots from their branches. Cornus florida is especially beautiful as a multi-trunked tree but can be pruned to be a single trunk.

Found natively mostly at the forest edge or in the shade of deciduous trees where birds who have eaten the seeds of dogwoods perch and "plant". Ten species of birds help distribute the seeds! As you walk through your own patch of deciduous woods, keep an eye out for these "plantings" most easily noticed in fall with their opposite, ovate, scarlet red leaves. The tree blooms best with some sun however and cultivars have been developed which withstand sun quite well. The more sun in which you plant this native, the more you will need to be careful to water as it is becoming established and during drought. Afternoon shade helps assure less stress during a hot, dry summer. Good drainage appears to be extremely important. The roots lie close to the surface of the ground making an organic mulch a good companion but poor drainage will lead to root rot. Not a fast grower but even young a good shade producer; consider planting it near a patio or favorite "sit-spot".

Common uses for this plant include: Showy display in three seasons in deciduous wood edges and with supplemental water as it establishes itself in mostly sun. The shock-resistant hard wood is used to make weaving-shuttles, spools, small pulleys, mallet heads, jewelers blocks, tool handles, tool parts, golf clubs, roller-skate wheels, and knitting needles. Native Americans used the aromatic bark and roots to treat malaria and extracted a red dye from the roots to color porcupine quills and eagle feathers. Civil War doctors used the bark as a substitute for quinine. Birds and butterflies are attracted to the tree and unfortunately also the deer. Pollination ecologists recognize Cornus florida as attracting a large number of bees. The berries relished by the birds are poisonous to humans.

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