The dogwood tree (Cornus florida) is the state tree of North Carolina, but its native habitat ranges far beyond the state borders. The northern boundary goes from Massachusetts through to Ontario and to Michigan, then southward to east Texas and Mexico and back east to the center of Florida. It covers a wide range of climates, but they all have similar environments.
The dogwood tree grows 15 to 25 feet in height and has a spread of about 35 feet. The tree is deciduous, meaning it will drop leaves at the end of the season. It produces small white flowers that are surrounded by white or pink bracts–a modified leaf–from late March through April. After the flowers are gone, the tree produces 3 to 6 inch long, deep green colored leaves that turn a deep scarlet to red/purple in the fall. The bright red fruit grow in small clusters and lasts into December.
Dogwood trees are hardy in zone 5, areas where the coldest winter temperatures do not go below minus 20 F and as far south as zone 9, areas where the winter temperatures do not go below 20 F.
Dogwoods do best in partial shade with three to six hours of sunshine a day. Full sun produces more flowers, but the tree will be shorter. Full shade will not produce as many flowers. It thrives in high humidity and well-drained loam soil that is enriched with organic matter. Dogwoods do not stand up well under stress such as extreme drought conditions.
Dogwood trees grow well as a companion plant with rhododendrons, azaleas and similar spring-flowering shrubs. The dogwood is a bit taller, so plant it in the back with the shorter shrubs in the front and you have a multi-colored display in early spring. They also go well as single specimen plants or planted under larger oaks or pine trees where they take advantage of the defused sunlight. The wood is heavy and strong. It is used to make shutters for weaving, the wedges used to split wood and for the shafts of golf clubs.
Dogwood bracts can be deformed by fungal dogwood blight, a disease that attacks in very wet weather and can kill the entire tree within the space of two to three years. Other fungal diseases can be a problem, but they are not as serious. An insect known as the twig borers can kill off the tips of the young twigs.