A dogwood is a dogwood is a dogwood…..Maybe, but maybe not. Here are some tips for distinguishing between the different species of dogwoods. (Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs, by Michael A. Dirr, Pub. 1997)
Cornus florida–Flowering dogwood. Low branched tree with rounded to flat-topped crown and strong horizontal branching. Leaves dark green, 3-6 inches long, excellent red to reddish purple fall color. 3-4 inch white flowers open in April and May before the leaves and are the ‘envy of every landscape plant’. Red fruit ripen in September and October. On older branches the bark gets a roughly textured alligator hide appearance. This understory tree prefers evenly moist, well-drained acidic soil with partial shade and will grow to it’s full potential under these conditions. Grows an average of 20 feet high and wide, zones 5 to 9. Some cultivars are ‘Cherokee Chief’ a deep red flower, ‘Cloud Nine’ good hardiness and large white flowers, ‘Rubra’ pink flowers.
Cornus kousa—Kousa or Japanese Dogwood. The trustworthy Mr. Dirr states that this tree, often lost in the landscape shadow of Cornus florida, is perhaps a better choice of dogwood. It is more adaptable to varying soil types and is resistant to the dreaded disease anthracnose. Kousa dogwood is upright in youth, becoming rounded with age with horizontal branching. Bark produces a jigsaw puzzle pattern with age. Leaves are dark green 2-4 inches, slightly smaller than florida, with a red fall color. The creamy white flowers open two to three weeks later than florida, 2-4 inches wide, with red fruit in the fall. Prefers moist, well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. Grows 20-30 feet high and wide, zones 5-8 (that’s us!). Varieties are ‘Satomi’ faded pink flowers, ‘Wolf Eyes’ variegated leaves, star shaped white flowers, ‘Milky Way’ abundant white blooms.
Cornus nuttallii—Pacific dogwood. Yes, we have our own native Northwest dogwood, growing up to 40 feet tall. It has 4-7 clear white bracts surrounding the flowers in spring with bright red berries ripening in October. The green leaves are elliptical with pointed tips and slightly wavy margins. Can take full sun to partial shade and prefers acidic well-drained soil like the other dogwood. Unfortunately this tree is susceptible to anthracnose disease, a symptom being browning of the leaves in late spring/summer.