Cary Smith Russell

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

Given in memory of Cary Smith Russell by Scott and Kayla Russell, Alison, Evan and Elena Boothe.

Description: Flowering Dogwood is a deciduous tree that grows 15 to 25 feet tall. This small tree is beloved for its white (or occasionally pink) flowers in the early spring.  The flowers are a small tight cluster of green color surrounded by four cross shaped white bracts which mature in early spring. A bract is a specialized leaf, especially one associated with a reproductive structure such as a flower. Bracts are often a different color or shape from foliage leaves. 

Leaves: Opposite, simple, oval to ovate dull green above, 6-7 vein pairs, 2.5-6″ long; fall color red to reddish purple.

Bark: The bark is smooth when young. As the tree ages, the bark becomes very scaly to finely blocky. One way to identify the tree is the bark being broken into small squares and rectangles.  

Flowers: 3-6 inches in size, blooms in early spring before the leaves come out.  The true flowers are at the center, green and insignificant, but are surrounds by 4 petal-like 2-inch-long bracts.  

Fruit: Fruit is a cluster of glossy shiny red drupes (0.5″) that are bitter and inedible to humans but loved by birds. They display August to October. A drupe is a botanical term for “stone fruit” in which an outer fleshy part surrounds a single hardened shell (the pit) with a seed kernel inside.

Habitat: The flowering dogwood grows in medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. It prefers moist, organically rich, acidic soils in part shade. It will benefit from a 2-4” mulch which will help keep roots cool and moist in summer.  

Wildlife Value: It is a host plant for the Azure butterfly.  Butterflies feed on the nectar on the blooms.  Its fruits are eaten by songbirds, ruffed grouse, quail, wild turkey, chipmunks, black bear, foxes, white-tailed deer, skunks, and squirrels. The tree supports several species of bees.  

Uses: An excellent but disease-susceptible landscape specimen tree.  The wood has excellent shock resistance, and is one of the hardest domestic woods in the U.S.  It is used for textile shuttles, golf club heads, archery bows, mallets, pulleys and turned objects.  

History:  There is a legend that the cross on which Jesus was crucified was made from a dogwood tree. God decreed that the dogwood tree would from that day forth never grow large enough to be used to make a cross. In the center of the outer edge of the white petals there is a brown rust spot that is said to represent the wounds of Christ from the Crucifixion.

Sources:  NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox.  Legend