Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Flowering dogwood: Beautiful in all seasons

Cornus florida

Flowers of Cornus florida
Morguefile photo by ronnieb

The dogwood is one of our loveliest native trees. It is highly attractive in all seasons, due to its graceful shape, upturned branches, attractive leaves, beautiful blossoms, and red fall foliage accompanied by red berries.

Dogwood has the added virtue of being a great wildlife tree. If you want to plant a beautiful tree that will attract birds, you can hardly go wrong with a dogwood. Its berries are eaten by many species of birds (as well as by a number of animals.) My neighbor has commented to me that she wishes the beautiful red berries would last into the winter, but the birds usually remove all the berries in short order.

Dogwood is also strong enough to withstand some wind and ice without serious damage, so that's a big plus for the tree.

It can grow up to 40 or 50 feet in height, and it will be about as wide as it is tall. In other words, you should allow a 25 foot radius around the tree's trunk when you plant it.

Sadly, dogwoods have been decimated by disease for the last few decades. During the 1970's, they began contracting dogwood anthracnose, a fungal infection that kills adult trees within three years and kills young trees in a single season.

Anthracnose has been particularly hard on the wild dogwoods that grow in forest conditions -- shady, humid areas with little air movement where fungus can thrive.

Dogwoods can also get spot anthracnose which spoils the appearance of the flowers and leaves, even though it's not usually fatal to the tree. Powdery mildew can also be a problem.

One of the preventive measures for dogwood anthracnose is to plant the dogwood where it gets full sun and good air circulation. It's also important to keep the tree in good health to improve its resistance. Cornell University suggests providing water during dry spells, avoiding injury to the trunk, removing leaf debris from under the tree, and spraying with fungicides during the spring.

The University of Tennessee Dogwood Research Group (UTDRG) identifies several cultivars that resist the various dogwood diseases. If I were planting a dogwood, I'd look for one of these rather than digging up a dogwood from the woods.

UTDRG developed the dogwood-anthracnose resistant cultivar "Appalachian Spring" which was released in 1998. I like it because it's 100% native dogwood, not a cross with a Korean dogwood. Hopefully, they'll eventually get a cultivar that's resistant to both spot and dogwood anthracnose and powdery mildew as well.

Meanwhile, don't be afraid to plant a dogwood. Look at all the beautiful, healthy dogwoods that are growing in other people's yards! Chances are good that you'll be able to grow a beautiful healthy dogwood too.

Related:  Dogwood thoughts for Easter

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927)

Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

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