The flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) grows naturally throughout the eastern parts of the U.S. and is a hugely popular ornamental species. According to the Floridata website, hundred of named cultivars of the flowering dogwood exist. The tree has appeal during all four seasons, as its bark, flowers, leaves and fruit all present a pleasing visual effect. Flowering dogwood works in a wide selection of scenarios as an ornamental, including usages as a specimen plant, a lawn or patio tree or a species you can place near the edges of woodlands on your property.
A short trunk is one of the features of the species, which typically is less than 30 feet tall and often only the size of a large shrub. The trunk may be 8 inches in diameter and the leaves are from 3 to 6 inches long. The actual flowers are small, about 3/16 inch across, but four much larger white to pinkish bracts border them. The bracts, which are really modified leaves that help attract insects to pollinate the dogwoods, are each as wide as 2 inches. The fruit that develops from the flowers is usually less than 1/2 inch long.
In the wild, you can find flowering dogwood from as far north as extreme southern portions of New Hampshire and Vermont to as far south as central regions of Florida. The flowering dogwood's range covers much of the Deep South and all the mid-Atlantic states. The tree grows as far west as eastern Oklahoma and Texas. In the Midwest, flowering dogwood exists in Indiana, Ohio, lower Michigan and southern Illinois.
In the winter, the bark of the flowering dogwood, which the University of Connecticut Plant Database website says resembles the skin of an alligator, gives the tree a unique presence. The bark can be black, dark gray or brown. The showy flowers bloom just as the leaves develop, lasting for as long as three weeks. The leaves are oval, green and change to red or red-purple in autumn, retaining their vibrant color well into the fall. The berries are a brilliant red color and grow in clusters. The berries provide food for birds and small mammals, but those that escape detection will stay on the branches into the winter.
In cooler northern climates, full sun is the best for a flowering dogwood, while in the southern states you can plant one in the partial shade. The tree will flourish in moist, cool soil that has acidic tendencies and some organic matter mixed into it. Flowering dogwoods sometimes take awhile to start growing again after you transplant them, so it is best to do so when the tree is small. Keep the tree watered in times of drought or you risk exposing it to diseases that could affect it in a weakened state.
The cultivars of flowering dogwoods available in nurseries today give you an assortment of features to consider. The Cherokee Brave has dark pink bracts with white centers, while Cherokee Chief offers red bracts. Cloud 9 is a hybrid that withstands colder climates and produces white flowers at a young age. The Welchii cultivar has variegated leaves that turn red in fall, with white flowers. The Xanthocarpa type has yellow fruit that follows the white flowers.