last updated 20/10/2014

Tree Cornus or "Flowering Dogwood"

This attractive group of plants is not as widely known and used in this country as they deservedly are in the States. We are often asked for the species florida, kousa or nuttallii as many people are unaware that there are so many better selected forms.

We do not grow the species for several reasons. They would generally be grown from seed; this naturally gives rise to variation. The plants can take several years to flower and then prove to be inferior. Imagine the disappointment!

By grafting, we can perpetuate a particular feature, whether flower size, growth habit and size, colour or foliage variegation. Cornus nuttallii particularly is not a happy plant in the somewhat damp British climate and prone to sudden death when grown from seed. By grafting it onto a tougher rootstock we an not only make it easier to grow, but we can guarantee its flowering characteristics.

We graft all the forms of florida, nuttallii and kousa onto the geographical variant Cornus kousa var. chinensis. It is the hardiest and most vigorous, getting the young plants off to the best possible start. It also ensures that the plants will flower from a very early age.

They particularly like a moisture retentive soil, as the nuttalliis and floridas especially have large leaves which can lose water rapidly in the summer. Interestingly, we have been told of plants doing well on chalk too.

The attractive parts of the flower head are actually bracts which resemble petals and surround the tiny true flowers in the centre. These are white in the species, but there are now many pink cultivars too. Since they are bracts not flowers, they last longer, often starting green and star like before expanding to a more rounded shape as the true flower opens. In some cultivars, the bracts then mature to pink.

CORNUS angustata 'Full Moon' 

CORNUS 'Ascona '
(C. florida x C. nuttallii) A small tree with gently pendulous branches. Thus it becomes clothed down to the ground with large white flower bracts in May. Vivid red autumn colour.
See also the cultivars of Cornus nuttallii.

CORNUS capitata
The first thing you need to know about this spectacular species, is that although it comes from the Himalayas and China, it is not quite as hardy as the other species we have previously concentrated on. It is however, such a classic that we concluded we really need to make the effort. One of the problems is simply that it wants to be evergreen - and having leaf in winter makes it more vulnerable to cold and general exposure. Crucial therefore, to choose a sheltered site for it. In northern and colder climes, I would suggest that the risk is too great and you should consider instead one of the many cultivars of Cornus kousa. C. capitata flowers a little later, peaking in July instead of June, but the structure and beauty of the flower bracts is the same. The habit tends to be a little more shrubby and it doesn't get as big in the long term. A fantastic crop of large, juicy, strawberry-like fruit round-off the display in the autumn.

CORNUS 'Dorothy' 
(C. florida x C. nuttallii) I am indebted to Talon Buchholz for sharing this magical plant with me. He introduced it as part of his Flora Wonder(tm) Collection of Buchholz Nursery where it forms an upright deciduous tree to some 10' in 10 years. There are other well-know hybrids between these two parents of course, but they all sit happily at the nuttallii end of the scale. This one by contrast appears much closer to its florida parentage. The flower bracts are soft white near the centre with a warm pink edge.

CORNUS 'Eddies White Wonder'
(C. florida x C. nuttallii) Just to further confuse matters, there are two forms of this popular plant. We offer the true American form, which is similar to C. 'Ascona' with its lightly pendulous habit. The other is much more upright and more akin to C. 'Ormonde'. Large white flower bracts in May, and fantastic red and orange autumn colour.
See also the cultivars of Cornus nuttallii.

CORNUS emiensis
I can find no information about this one on the internet. So all I have to go on is a single plant that I have seen, from which mine were grafted. It was in a large pot (though of course there is no obligation to grow it thus!) and made a very lovely specimen, with a dense, cascading habit. It is evergreen, so will benefit from a sheltered site, but it should be as hardy as other similar species like C. capitata and C. angustata. The young growth was blushed with warm copper too. The "flowers" share the typical 4-bracted structure of the group.

Back to Previous Page

More Cornus

Go Back to Top of Page