A great ornamental tree, even in January
Even in winter, the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is a beautiful tree. Its branching pattern is attractive. A typical dogwood is somewhat flat on top with several tiers of branches that stretch out horizontally. The tips of the twigs are turned up to the sunshine.
The dogwood's bark is gray with a segmented pattern. It looks as if it were made up of many small rounded or squarish tiles fitted together. The distinctive bark is a good clue of the tree's identity anytime, but especially so when the tree has no leaves.
The pattern and color of a tree's bark, the angle of the twigs, and the arrangement of branches may seem like insignificant details. However, when winter reduces a tree to its essence, the tree's framework is its prominent feature.
In January, it's a joy to see a graceful dogwood tree silhouetted against the winter sky.
In late autumn and early winter, this little tree was covered with red berries. They're all gone now -- eaten by birds and other wildlife. Dogwood berries are a great favorite of wild creatures.
And of course, the tree will put on new leaves next spring, followed immediately by its showy and distinctive blossoms.
I must add a few words of caution, though. In nature, the dogwood is an understory tree in the forest. For the dogwood to survive in an open, sunny setting, like my neighbor's pretty little tree in the photo above, it needs water during dry spells. He does have it planted in a well-drained spot -- that's good.
The dogwood doesn't like compacted soil. This tree seems to be doing all right along a ditch beside a rural blacktop road, but dogwoods aren't recommended if the ground has suffered a lot of heavy traffic. They also don't like heavily polluted air or constant bright light at night.
A large dogwood tree may be 40 to 50 feet tall and about as wide as it is tall. When choosing a planting site, it's important to allow plenty of room for the tree to widen as it grows.
Photo of the dogwood bark: W.D. Brush @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database