Flowering Dogwood – Cornus florida

Native to eastern North America, Flowering Dogwood is recognized by its gray to dark reddish-brown bark; the surface is broken into small, scale-like squares. In autumn and winter, it has terminal buttonlike buds and clusters of red fruits. Blooming in Tuscaloosa in mid-April, flowers have 4 large white petals, and make up an inflorescence, a dense head of about 20 flowers, that is 2″ to 4″ in diameter. Flowering dogwoods grow up to 15 m tall, and have several large, wide-spreading branches that form a low, dense head. Its deciduous leaves are light green and somewhat hairy, and become scarlet in the fall. Growing best in moist acidic soils near streams and on slopes, it is usually found in the shade of other hardwoods, but also found on open slopes and ridges.

The hard, dense wood is extremely shock resistant, but fairly limited in economic value, with uses such as mallet heads, jeweler’s blocks, tool handles, and golf club heads. In colonial times, a brew made from the bark was used to treat fever. The bright red fruit, ripening in late summer, is an important source of food to dozens of bird species, which then distribute the seeds. The flowering dogwood is exceptional as an ornamental because of its hardiness, moderate size, prominent flower clusters in spring, and red leaves and fruits in autumn.

A few trees here at the Arboretum have been infected by the disease Dogwood Anthracnose, and are at varying stages of decline. An anthracnose fungus, Discula sp., has been identified as the causal agent, but the origin of the disease is unknown. It began in the northeastern U.S. about 25 years ago and has migrated south, becoming increasingly harmful to the vitality of Alabama’s flowering dogwoods during the past several years.