If there would be only one tree allowed in my garden, it would be the native dogwood, Cornus florida. The set of seven trees, not all are visible in the above shot from April of 2008, on the steep slope behind the main house in shades of pink brighten our spirits as we step out the back door in the early morning. One of the trees has since died due to being completely engulfed with grapevines. They have grown larger and been limbed up to allow more light to the plantings underneath.
A tree from my childhood in Oklahoma, the dogwood leaf was always one collected for the yearly science project of identifying trees from their leaves. In fall, the color made them easily identifiable, as they turned varying shades of red, pink and purple, sometimes orange. The dogwood is one of the first trees to turn here in Southeast Tennessee, signaling the beginning of the leaf peeping season.
The Cornus florida in bloom is spectacular, but it is a four season tree.
Spring is when the music becomes a featured solo performance, with petals of white, pink or darker pink, sold as red. The edge of each petal is marked with an indentation that is said to represent the blood of Jesus on the cross at Easter. The bloom time is a marker of Dogwood Winter, when a cold snap passes over the Southeast at that time. Click here to read more about that.
In summer, the heavily veined leaves provide light shade as the fruits form. The red berries add to the beauty, before they are all devoured by ravenous birds, that is. Shade loving plants such as hostas and ferns thrive under Cornus florida, as well as many other plants.
The dogwood tree, Cornus florida is a deciduous native to the Eastern United States, hardy in USDA Zones 5-9, growing to thirty feet tall by twenty feet wide at maturity. It can be kept smaller with pruning. There can be multiple trunks or a single trunk. Spring flowers are white or pink, followed by red berries and brilliant red fall foliage. Wildlife friendly for the berries, the leaves are the larval host for the spring azure butterfly. It is recognized by the pollination ecologists as being attractive to large numbers of native bees.
Many mature dogwoods were lost to the dreaded anthracnose disease several years ago. Due to the millions, or possibly trillions of seeds held in the earth, young dogwood trees abound, many now reaching blooming size. Plant breeders discovered an anthracnose resistant stand of Cornus florida in Maryland and developed new cultivars from them that are now for sale. Appalachian Spring is one such cultivar. (The name is a link to a good article about it.) The trees growing in the Fairegarden were luckily spared by the devastating disease.
If you are looking for a native tree that is small garden friendly, do give the dogwood a chance. Look for the telltale minarets at the ends of the branches to be sure and get one that will flower for you the first year. Give it a partly sunny to full sun location, well drained acid soil, mulch to retain moisture, but no mulch volcanoes, please.
Seedlings will appear under flowering sized trees and are easily identified by the smooth, graceful branches and pointed leaf buds. They can be relocated most successfully when small. Many of the trees growing here are babies from our other Tennessee garden and are now large specimens. Not only is this a most wonderful and deserving tree to grow in a garden, it gives you free trees. That makes a Tightwad Gardener very happy.