Dogwoods have always been a favorite of mine. There are so many different types of dogwood trees and shrubs, and even small herb-like shrubs, all with such beautiful flowers, bark, and foliage.
Dogwoods are part of the Cornaceae family, which only has two genera. When people think of dogwood, they are talking about the Cornus genus, which I will discuss here and explain their different identifying features.
Cornus has about 65 species found mostly in North America, Asia, and Europe.
Dogwood trees and shrubs are especially important for wildlife. Numerous local pollinating insects visit the flowers, and their fruits are an important summer, fall, and winter food source for birds, deer, squirrels, and more.
They easily grow in various habitats, from dry, rocky uplands to swampy valley bottoms.
While a few have edible fruits, some can cause rashes and digestive problems, so always know your plant identification.
Dogwoods as a whole can be identified vegetatively by their simple, usually ovate, elliptic, or lanceolate leaves (see below) with entire margins (no lobes or teeth) and a characteristic leaf vein pattern known as actinodromous venation. Actinodromous venation is a form of pinnate venation where the lateral veins arch towards and converge at the leaf tip. This is fairly unique among plants, but all Cornus species have it (also in the Melastomataceae family).
They can also be identified by gently tearing a leaf in half width-wise, and they will remain attached by little white fibers in their veins (also in some Celastraceae species).
Different leaf characteristics are an important way to help identify the different dogwood species. For instance, nearly all dogwood leaves are arranged in opposite pairs on the stem. So, those arranged singly and alternately on the stem are very easy to identify based on that feature.
Dogwood leaves are typically variously ovate, elliptic, lanceolate, or sometimes almost orbicular or rounded in shape.
Leaf bases are often wedge-shaped (cuneate) but sometimes are rounded, truncate, heart-shaped (cordate), or even slightly attenuate or oblique.
Leaf tips are generally acute (angle 45 – 90 degrees, short-pointed) or acuminate (long-pointed) but occasionally can be rounded or obtuse (angled at greater than 90 degrees).
Leaf and stem hairs may be present or absent. When present, they may be erect, flattened (appressed), or curly (tomentose).
Dogwoods often have very interesting flowers that can also be used to identify them. What most people think of as a ‘flower’ on Flowering Dogwood, for example, is actually an inflorescence of many small flowers encased in bracts. The four (six) large white ‘petals’ are actually white petal-like bracts – a type of modified leaf. These bracts hold the real flowers in their center, which also have four petals.
The size, shape, and color of the bracts and whether or not they are notched, as well as the color and number of actual flowers in the center, are used to help identify the different species.
Other dogwoods have more normal, but just as lovely, inflorescences of smaller flowers without the showy bracts.
Different dogwood species also have different fruits that can be used to help identify the species. Most produce drupes, these are berry-like fruits with a central pit – like a cherry. The drupes of different species will vary in size, shape, and color.
Some produce aggregate fruits formed from the merging of multiple ovaries. This is similar to a raspberry, which, botanically speaking, is not actually a berry, though it does look like a lumpy berry.
Finally, the color and patterns of the bark and twigs can be used to help distinguish the different species. The shape and abundance of lenticels can also be used to help identify species. Lenticels are raised pores on the stems that allow for gas exchange, and they come in different sizes, shapes, and colors.
If you want to plant a dogwood tree or shrub, then you have made an excellent choice, especially if you have a small garden or want to add some structural and aesthetic diversity to your larger landscape. And the wildlife around you will love you for it all year long.
When choosing a tree, it is important to do a little research to ensure success. In addition to understanding the USA Planting Zones, you must check your chosen tree’s soil, light, and moisture requirements and compare that to your site. Check out How to Pick A Tree For Your Yard for more information.
1. Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
Flowering Dogwood is famous among dogwoods for its abundance of big beautiful white ‘flowers.’
It’s a single-stem tree with gray to gray-brown bark that develops blocky rectangular plates, like the skin on an alligator’s back.
Young branches and twigs are green, maroon, or red with flattened hairs and swollen maroon lenticels.
Deciduous leaves are ovate to elliptical with long-pointed tips. The lower surface is whitish with flattened hairs and tufts of erect hairs in vein axils. The upper surface is dark green with flattened hairs. They turn beautiful shades of orange-red, red, or burgundy in fall.
Inflorescences contain 15-30 cream or yellowish-green flowers surrounded by four large, showy white petal-like bracts with notched tips, sometimes tinged with red.
The half-inch roundish red (rarely yellow) drupes spread away from each other, and remain all winter, feeding wildlife.
It grows on forest edges in full sun to partial shade in rich, well-drained soil.
Other Common Names: White Flowering Dogwood, American Dogwood, Florida Dogwood, Indian Arrowwood, White Dogwood, False Boxwood
Identifying Features: Flowering Dogwood has abundant inflorescences with large white petaloid bracts with notched tips and rich dark green, usually ovate and long-pointed leaves that turn vibrant colors in the fall. They can also be identified by the flattened hairs on both sides of the leaves, erect hairs on the lower side in the vein axils, and the spreading red drupes that are round in cross-section. It differs from Kousa Dogwood, which usually has very pointy petaloid bracts that are never notched, and from Pacific Dogwood, which has no notches in its four or six slightly pointy bracts and whose fruits are pressed close together rather than spreading apart.
Native Area: Eastern North America from southeastern Canada south throughout the eastern USA, west to eastern Kansas and Texas, and south to Veracruz, Mexico
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 35 ft (to 66 ft) tall, 20 – 35 ft spread
2. Mexican Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida f. urbiniana)
Mexican Flowering Dogwood has been called a subspecies of Cornus florida or its own Cornus urbiniana. According to plant authorities, it is an informal variant or form of Cornus florida.
This naturally rare Mexican variant is now a popular garden ornamental for its beauty and uniqueness.
Being Cornus florida, it shares most of the same features as Flowering Dogwood in terms of its form, leaves, and fruits.
Its difference is in its stunning inflorescence. The white petaloid bracts remain fused at their tips when they grow out of the bud, creating unique shapes of fused and twisted bracts that encase the inflorescence. A uniquely beautiful feature not seen in other dogwoods.
It prefers moist acidic soil and will not tolerate alkaline soil or hard freezing temperatures. It is not considered invasive anywhere.
Other Common Names: Magic Dogwood, Mexican Dogwood
Identifying Features: Mexican Flowering Dogwood is easily recognizable by its stunning inflorescence with white petaloid bracts that remain fused at their tips when they come out of the bud and encase the inflorescence with uniquely twisted bracts. This fusion of the bract tips is not seen in any other dogwood, making it the easiest dogwood to identify.
Native Area: Sporadic occurrences in Eastern Mexico from Neuvo Leon south to Veracruz
USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 20 ft tall, 10 – 20 ft spread
3. Red Dogwood (Cornus florida f. rubra)
Red Dogwood is a natural color variation of the Flowering Dogwood with red-tinged bracts that, according to plant authorities, is simply an informal variation of Cornus florida.
Cultivars were created early on from these natural variants to produce stunningly beautiful trees with various shades of showy red ‘flowers’ (petal-like bracts).
The trunk and fruits are like those of its parent plant. Leaves are similar but emerge burgundy-colored in the spring, then turn green, and in the fall, they turn a nice rusty red before falling off.
The inflorescences differ in having dark pink petal-like bracts instead of white, though they have the same conspicuous notched tips. There is often a whitish callus (patch of tissue) at the tip, and they typically fade to white near the base of the bracts.
It prefers partial shade, particularly in the south, but will tolerate full sun in northern areas.
Other Common Names: Red Flowering Dogwood, Pink Flowering Dogwood
Identifying Features: Red Dogwood’s reddish petaloid bracts with notched tips will make it very easy to identify it either as the natural variant of Flowering Dogwood if the red is more subtle or a cultivated variety when the red or dark pink is more pronounced. Other red cultivars of other species can be differentiated base on their bract, leaf, bark, and fruit characteristics.
Native Area: Natural variants are native to eastern North America in the same range as Cornus florida
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 25 ft tall, 20 – 25 ft spread
4. Cherokee Chief Dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Chief’)
Cherokee Chief Dogwood is a cultivar derived from a natural red color variant of Flowering Dogwood.
As such, it has many of the same features as its parent plant in terms of its fruit, trunk, bark, and leaf characteristics.
Leaves emerge burgundy to bronze-red in the spring, then turn dark green. In the fall, they turn shades of orange-red to dark red providing a nice fall color display.
The remarkably beautiful inflorescences have four vibrant deep pink to deep red petal-like bracts with a conspicuous notch and whitish callus at the tip and often some white near their bases.
It prefers partial shade, particularly in the south, but will tolerate full sun in northern areas.
It is a popular garden choice and is a pest, disease, drought, and deer-resistant tree.
Other Common Names: Red Flowering Dogwood
Identifying Features: The mostly deep pink or red petaloid bracts with notched tips and sometimes a white callus and some white at the base make it fairly easy to identify Cherokee Chief. It differs from other red cultivars of other species by its notched bract tips, as well as leaf, bark, and fruit characteristics. It differs from Cherokee Brave because that somewhat taller tree has much more white in the center of the bracts, typically less white at the tip of the bract, and it usually has conspicuous reddish veins running lengthwise through the bracts.
Native Area: N/A
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 20 ft tall, 15 – 30 ft spread
5. Cherokee Brave Dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Brave’)
Cherokee Brave Dogwood is also derived from the Flowering Dogwood and shares most of its fruit, trunk, bark, and leaf characteristics.
Leaves emerge with a reddish tint in the spring and mature to a rich green, then turn rusty red to maroon for interesting fall color.
The inflorescences are a uniquely beautiful color mosaic with dark pink to red petal-like bracts with a conspicuous notch at the tips and a touch of a white callus. The bracts are usually darker near the tips and fade to a noticeably fully white base.
The petal-like bracts also have red, pink, or dark pink vein lines running lengthwise down the bracts, creating a nice contrasting color pattern that varies from subtle to striking.
It prefers partial shade, particularly in the south, but will tolerate full sun in northern areas. It is also disease, pest, and drought-resistant.
Other Common Names: None
Identifying Features: The pink or red petaloid bracts of Cherokee Brave Dogwood that fade to white centers and have pink or reddish longitudinal veins make it very easy to identify them. It differs from other red cultivars of other species by its notched bract tips, as well as leaf, bark, and fruit characteristics. It differs from the similar Cherokee Chief because it is taller, Cherokee Chief has no or little white at the base of the bracts (but may have more at the tip), and it lacks the pink or reddish veins seen in Cherokee Brave.
Native Area: N/A
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 30 ft tall, 20 – 30 ft spread
6. Pacific Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii)
Pacific Dogwood is a beautiful Pacific Northwest native and the floral emblem of British Columbia, Canada.
Its single-stem smooth gray trunk matures to form blocky square or rectangular plates.
Young branches and twigs are green, maroon, or dark red and have small flattened hairs. Its lenticels are round or lentil-shaped pale spots with a dark central pore.
Leaves are variously ovate to elliptical with an acute tip. The lower surface is pale green with flattened hairs and erect hairs in vein axils. The upper surface is yellow-green with flattened hairs. The deciduous leaves turn orange-red in the fall.
Inflorescences contain 40 – 75 cream to yellow-green (rarely purplish) flowers in the center of four or six broad white petal-like bracts with slightly pointed tips.
Drupes are red (rarely yellow) and pressed close together.
It grows in moist, well-drained soils as an understory tree in open, mixed forests or at forest edges.
Other Common Names: Canadian Dogwood, Mountain Dogwood, Western Flowering Dogwood
Identifying Features: Pacific Dogwood can be identified by its showy inflorescences with 4 – 6 white petaloid bracts that are obovate (widest at the tip) to diamond-shaped and contain 40 – 75 cream, yellow-green, or purplish tubular flowers in the center. It can be distinguished from Flowering Dogwood, which always has notches in its four (never six) bracts tips, whose fruits are spreading rather than pressed together, and whose lenticels are swollen and maroon instead of pale and round. It can be distinguished from Kousa Dogwood, whose four (never six) bracts usually have much pointier tips and whose fruit is an aggregate rather than a drupe.
Native Area: Western North America from southern BC, Canada south to southern California, with a disjunct and Critically Imperilled inland population in central Idaho
USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 40 ft (to 75 ft) tall, 10 – 25 ft spread
7. Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa)
Kousa Dogwood is a small tree or multi-stemmed shrub with relatively smooth, somewhat warty bark with lenticels and leaf scars. As it matures, it often develops thin papery plates that peel off, creating a mottled pattern.
It has deciduous, ovate to elliptical leaves with long-pointed, acute, or sometimes almost rounded tips. They provide lovely red fall color.
The inflorescence has four very symmetrical petal-like bracts that spread away from each other and have long or sometimes short-pointed tips that are never rounded or notched.
The fruit is a one-inch reddish aggregate. They are edible but difficult to eat because the seeds are fused to the sweet flesh, and the rind is bitter, though the wildlife loves them.
It grows best in acidic, rich, well-drained soil. It is somewhat drought resistant and will tolerate clay soils.
Though naturalized in the Northeastern USA, it is not currently considered invasive anywhere.
Other Common Names: Kousa, Chinese Dogwood, Korean Dogwood, Japanese Dogwood
Identifying Features: Kousa Dogwood is a small tree or multi-stemmed shrub with four very symmetrical and wide-spreading pointy-tipped showy petaloid bracts that are never notched or rounded. This, along with its sometimes papery peeling bark and the uncommon aggregate fruits, help distinguish it from the other dogwood trees with similar inflorescences. In shrub form, the showy bracts will help distinguish it from other dogwood shrubs that have inflorescences of smaller flowers without the showy bracts.
Native Area: Korea, Japan, China
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 20 ft (to 30 ft) tall, 15 – 25 ft spread
8. Scarlet Fire Dogwood (Cornus kousa ‘Rutpink’)
Scarlet Fire is an award-winning tree introduced in 2017, created not long before at Rutgers using Kousa Dogwood as its parent stock.
It has stunningly beautiful solid fuschia pink petaloid bracts that are ovate with short to long-pointed tips. No other dogwood has this color of bracts.
The flowers bloom a full six to eight weeks in the spring, much longer than other dogwood trees.
Its dark green leaves have purple streaks in them, adding more interesting color to the landscape.
Otherwise, it shares the same trunk, bark, and fruit characteristics as the Kousa Dogwood.
It is drought and heat-resistant as well as disease and pest-resistant and would make a stunning addition to any landscape or garden.
Other Common Names: None
Identifying Features: Scarlet Fire Dogwood is a small tree with four vibrant fuschia-colored symmetrical, wide-spreading, and pointy-tipped petaloid bracts that are never notched or rounded. No other dogwood has this color of bracts in its inflorescence. This, along with its sometimes papery peeling bark and aggregate fruit, will quickly give you a positive identification.
Native Area: N/A
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 25 ft tall, 15 – 20 ft spread
9. Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas)
Cornelian Cherry is known for its edible ellipsoid ½ inch drupes that ripen from green to yellow to red. They are sour and are often made into fruit preserves or left for thankful wildlife to eat.
It is a small deciduous tree or large shrub with a single stem branching heavily from its lower trunk.
Thin wide shedding plates in the bark create mottled gray-tan to reddish patterns. Branches are maroon, brown, or red with lengthwise grooves. Green twigs are densely flattened-hairy. Swollen maroon lenticels break open into a corky surface.
Leaves are elliptic with a wedge-shaped base and acute tip. The lower surface is yellow-green with flattened hairs and erect hairs in vein axils, and the upper is dark green and sparsely flattened hairy.
Inflorescences have 10-15 small bright yellow flowers that are quite unusual for dogwoods.
While naturalized in New York, it is not considered invasive anywhere.
Other Common Names: Cornelian Cherry Dogwood, European Cornel
Identifying Features: Cornelian Cherry has mottled bark, bright yellow flowers in small inflorescences, and relatively large, edible, sour cherry-like drupes that make it easy to identify and distinguish from others of its genus. It is sometimes mistaken for Common Dogwood, which has inflorescences of small white flowers and smaller purple-black drupes. It is frequently mistaken for Northern Spicebush Lindera benzoin with its similar leaves and yellow flowers. Still, that one has round lenticels on brownish bark that is not mottled, and its red drupes are much narrower and have a peppery rather than sour taste.
Native Area: Southern and Central Europe, Western Asia
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 25 ft tall, 12 – 20 ft spread
10. Himalayan Flowering Dogwood (Cornus capitata ssp angustata)
Often called Cornus elliptica, the Himalayan Flowering Dogwood is actually a subspecies of Cornus capitata.
It’s a tree or large shrub with gray or grayish-brown bark. Young branches are green and usually have flattened hairs that mostly disappear with age.
Leaves are evergreen, unlike most dogwoods, and are elliptic to lanceolate in shape and grayish-green on both surfaces. They are thin or thick, quite leathery, and densely covered with white flattened hairs.
Numerous lovely variegated cultivars are available for that extra splash of year-round color (like Summer Splash in the right photo above).
Inflorescences contain 55-95 small tubular flowers surrounded by yellowish to white petaloid bracts that are naturally somewhat narrow but vary widely in cultivars.
The roundish aggregate fruit is red when mature and covered with white flattened hairs.
It grows naturally on forested slopes and streamsides between 980 and 7200 ft.
Other Common Names: Strawberry Dogwood, Himalayan Strawberry Tree, Empress of China
Identifying Features: The leathery grayish-green evergreen leaves, along with the aggregate fruits of Himalayan Flowering Dogwood, will easily identify it and differentiate it from all other common dogwood species. Its bracts are different from other showy dogwoods as well, naturally being narrower and without notched tips, though this varies considerably among cultivars. Even among cultivars with varying inflorescences, the evergreen leaves and aggregate fruits will give you a positive identification.
Native Area: Eastern Asia to Western China
USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 10
Average Size at Maturity: 13 – 20 ft (to 40 ft) tall, 13 – 20 ft spread
11. Giant Dogwood (Cornus controversa)
Giant Dogwood has upright branches when young that spread horizontally as they mature, appearing like layers on a cake.
The bark is dark or yellowish-gray and remains relatively smooth. Current year branches are purple, turning green when mature, and may be hairy or smooth but have conspicuous circular leaf scars and rounded lenticels.
Leaves are broadly ovate to almost round with acute or long-pointed tips. Lower surfaces are light to gray-green with sparse flattened hairs, small bumps, and raised purplish veins. In the fall, leaves provide fall color with vibrant shades of red, orange, or purple.
Inflorescences are filled with small white flowers with whitish stamens extending beyond the petals.
The fruit is a small roundish red or bluish-black drupe.
It is a fast-growing tree preferring partial shade but will tolerate full sun in cooler climates.
Numerous cultivars are available, including those with variegated leaves.
Other Common Names: Wedding Cake Tree, Cake Tree, June Snow (cultivar shown above)
Identifying Features: The large size of Giant Dogwood and its inflorescence of small flowers without showy bracts is a quick way to identify it, as none of the other common dogwood trees get this large, and most tree forms have showy bracts around their inflorescences. It is sometimes confused with Pagoda Dogwood, but that one can quickly be differentiated by its unusual alternate leaves as opposed to the opposite leaves seen in Giant Dogwood and almost all other dogwood species.
Native Area: China, the Himalayas, Japan, Korea, Manchuria, Nepal, and Vietnam
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 8 (9)
Average Size at Maturity: 30 – 50 ft (to 65 ft) tall, 30 – 50 ft spread
12. Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea)
Red Osier Dogwood is a hardy, multi-stemmed, suckering deciduous shrub found throughout riparian areas of boreal and temperate North America.
Often used in ecological restoration for its ease of propagation, fast growth, wildlife values, and tolerance of disturbance.
Its somewhat warty bark is yellow to red. Twigs are bright red, reddish brown, maroon, or green with flattened hairs when young.
Lanceolate to ovate leaves have a wedge-shaped base and acute or long-pointed tips. Lower surfaces are white with flattened hairs and erect hairs in vein axils, and upper surfaces are green with sparse flattened hairs. Leaves turn yellow, red, or burgundy-red in the fall.
Flat-topped inflorescences have numerous small white or cream flowers without showy bracts, followed by roundish white (rarely blue) drupes.
While native in North America, it is invasive in Europe, so check before planting.
Numerous cultivars are available with varying leaf and twig colors and dwarf sizes.
Other Common Names: American Dogwood, Creek Dogwood, Redstem Dogwood, Red Twig Dogwood, Red Willow, Red Brush
Identifying Features: Red Osier Dogwood can be identified by its usually reddish (yellow) branches, flat-topped inflorescences of small white flowers without bracts, and clusters of small white drupes that birds and wildlife love. Siberian Dogwood has broader leaves with conspicuous small veins and rounded lenticels not seen in Red Osier Dogwood. Roughleaf Dogwood has olive-green leaves that are rough-hairy, and Common Dogwood also has rough leaves with a slightly attenuate or oblique base.
Native Area: Boreal and temperate North America from Alaska east to Newfoundland and south to Durango and Nuevo Leon in Mexico. In the USA, it is absent from much of the Great Plains and the southeastern states.
USDA Growing Zones: 2 – 7
Average Size at Maturity: 5 – 10 ft (3 – 20 ft) tall, 8 – 12 ft spread
13. Siberian Dogwood (Cornus alba)
Siberian Dogwood is a fast-growing, multi-stemmed, suckering, deciduous shrub with colorful purplish red bark. When mature, the bark is reddish with scattered grayish-white rounded lenticels and conspicuous semi-circular leaf scars.
Leaves are broadly elliptical or ovate with an acute tip, glaucous green below with short white flattened hairs, and conspicuous small veins. The margin may be entire or slightly revolute (lower edge rolled under).
Inflorescences are dense clusters of white or yellowish flowers with stamens with yellowish anthers that extend beyond the petals, followed by creamy white or bluish-white roundish-oblong drupe.
Naturally found in mixed forests and thickets, especially riparian areas, at elevations up to 8800 ft.
It spreads colonially via suckering if not maintained. Despite this, it’s not currently considered invasive. In North America, Red Osier Dogwood is a great native alternative.
Cultivars have different types of variegated leaves (above right and below) and twig colors.
Other Common Names: White Dogwood, Tatarian Dogwood, Red-barked Dogwood
Identifying Features: Siberian Dogwood has broad leaves with conspicuous small veins, purplish red bark with rounded lenticels and conspicuous semi-circular leaf scars, and hairy inflorescence with white or yellowish flowers with long stamens and yellow anthers. It is most often confused with Red Osier Dogwood, but that one has narrower leaves and inconspicuous small veins. Common and Round Leaved Dogwood both have rough hairs on their leaves, and Gray Dogwood has characteristic gray bark.
Native Area: Siberia, Northern China, Korea
USDA Growing Zones: 3(2) – 7
Average Size at Maturity: 8 – 10 ft tall, 8 – 10 ft spread
14. Gray Dogwood (Cornus racemosa)
Gray Dogwood is a large, beautifully rounded deciduous shrub with solitary stems with gray, brittle, warty bark that may form small plates as it ages. Twigs are pinkish brown or green-maroon, maturing to gray-maroon. Lenticels are uniform pale spots that protrude from the bark when mature.
Leaves are lanceolate to ovate with a wedge-shaped base and an acute, rounded, or obtuse tip. The lower surface is pale green, and the upper surface is green or maroon if grown in full sun. Both surfaces have flattened white to rusty hairs.
Inflorescences are rounded clusters of numerous white flowers, followed by white (rarely pale blue) slightly flattened elliptical drupes loved by wildlife.
It grows in wet to dry, low, open areas, riparian areas, fields, open woods, and roadsides in full sun to part shade.
It has rhizomes making vegetative propagation easy, and it is not considered invasive.
Other Common Names: Gray Twig Dogwood, Northern Swamp Dogwood, Panicled Dogwood, Red-panicled Dogwood
Identifying Features: Gray Dogwood is an upright, rounded shrub with brittle gray mature bark and leaves that are maroon when in full sun and often have rust-colored (or white) hairs on both surfaces. Its pinkish-brown or green-maroon twigs that mature to gray-maroon can also help identify it. Red Osier Dogwood is similar but has reddish twigs, and the lower surface of its leaves is white. Other similar shrub dogwoods all have either broader and /or rougher leaves with erect hairs.
Native Area: Eastern North America in southeastern Canada and northeastern USA
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 3 – 20 ft tall, 8 – 15 ft spread
15. Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum)
Silky Dogwood is a moisture-loving deciduous shrub with clustering stems that occasionally touch the ground and root at nodes.
The bark is green-tan or maroon-tan, never plated but develops lengthwise grooves. Branches are densely silky with erect hairs when young. Lenticels do not protrude.
Leaves are broadly ovate with a rounded or truncate base and long-pointed tip. The lower surface is yellow-green with rusty brown to white erect and flattened (sometimes curled) hairs and dense short curly hairs on the midvein and secondary veins. The upper surface is light to dark green and has flattened hairs and ladderlike veins where small veins are perpendicular to secondary veins.
Small creamy-white flowers in flat-topped or convex inflorescences are followed by small blue drupes that bleach white in the sunlight.
It prefers wetland soils from 0 -1500 ft in partial shade. It will tolerate full sun if kept moist and given organic matter.
Other Common Names: Red Willow, Silky Cornel, Kinnickinnick, Squawbush, Pale Dogwood, Swamp Dogwood
Identifying Features: Silky Dogwood’s erect, densely silky hairy young branches and various erect, flattened, or curly hairs on its leaf surfaces will help identify it, along with the curly hairs along its midvein and secondary veins on the lower surface. The other similar-looking shrub dogwoods do not have silky hairs on the twigs and do not have any curly (tomentose) hairs anywhere. Roughleaf Dogwood does have erect hairs on the twigs, but they are rough rather than silky, and it lacks the curly hairs on the lower veins.
Native Area: Endemic to the eastern USA from Michigan east to Vermont and south to Alabama and Florida. It is overall secure but Critically Imperiled in Indiana.
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 6 – 10 ft (to 16.5 ft) tall, 6 – 10 ft spread
16. Roughleaf Dogwood (Cornus drummondii)
Roughleaf Dogwood is a North American native shrub or small tree with a single stem.
Its bark is pinkish-gray, developing small square or rectangular plates with age. Young branches and twigs are yellow-green above, maroon-pink below, and densely covered with erect hairs. Lenticels, when mature, protrude and split the bark lengthwise.
Leaves are lanceolate to ovate with wedge-shaped, heart-shaped, or truncate bases and long-pointed tips. Lower surfaces are pale green with dense upward-curving hairs, and upper surfaces are olive to gray-green with upward-curving or flattened hairs; they are typically rough to the touch.
Small white flowers grow in flat-topped or convex inflorescences and are followed by roundish white drupes.
It prefers wet woods and streambanks in partial shade, where it spreads via rhizomes to create small thickets providing food and cover for wildlife.
Though overall Secure, it is Critically Imperilled in Indiana, New York, and Georgia.
Other Common Names: Northern Roughleaf Dogwood, Cornel Dogwood, Drummond’s Dogwood, Small Flowered Dogwood
Identifying Features: Roughleaf Dogwood is easily recognized by its olive or gray-green leaves that have rough surfaces due to upcurved erect hairs instead of the usually flattened hairs. It can be further identified by its white drupes and its branches and twigs that are yellow-green above and maroon-pink below and covered with dense erect hairs that are not silky to the touch. Common Dogwood also has rough leaves, but its leaf base is somewhat attenuate or oblique, and it has bluish drupes instead of white.
Native Area: Eastern North America in southern Ontario, Canada, and the USA from South Dakota south to Texas east to New York, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 6 – 16 ft (to 25 ft) tall, 6 – 16 ft spread
17. Common Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea)
Common Dogwood is a medium-sized shrub with clustered stems.
The bark is maroon to reddish brown, slightly warty, and not corky. Twigs are reddish brown, yellow, or maroon and have flattened hairs when young. They add color to the winter landscape.
The deciduous leaves are elliptic to narrowly ovate, usually with a slightly attenuate or sometimes oblique base and long-pointed tips. The lower surface is white and rough with erect and flattened hairs. Leaves turn golden yellow in the fall.
Inflorescences are flat-topped clusters of small creamy white flowers followed by roundish purple-black drupes.
It prefers full sun but not too much heat. It grows in mountains in southern areas and down to sea level in the north. It requires light, moist, often alkaline soils. It i’s often found next to rivers, in shady ravines, and forest edges.
It is naturalized in the USA but is not yet considered invasive.
Other Common Names: Bloodtwig Dogwood, Dogberry, Pegwood, European Dogwood
Identifying Features: Common Dogwood, at first glance, looks like many other shrubby dogwoods with inflorescences of small whitish flowers. It can, however, be quickly identified by its leaves with flattened and erect hairs that give it a rough touch, the purplish-black drupes, and the slightly attenuate leaf and/or oblique leaf base not seen in other common dogwood species. Roughleaf Dogwood also has rough leaves, but it has white instead of purple-black drupes.
Native Area: Most of Europe and Western Asia
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 7
Average Size at Maturity: 7 – 10 ft (to 20 ft) tall, – 10 ft spread
18. Roundleaf Dogwood (Cornus rugosa)
Roundleaf Dogwood is a lovely deciduous single-stemmed shrub with pinkish, light maroon, or green, slightly warty bark. Its twigs are yellow-green with scattered hairs.
The pretty leaves are broadly ovate to almost round with a somewhat heart-shaped to broadly wedge-shaped base and an abrupt long-pointed tip.
Lower surfaces are pale green with erect hairs and tufts in vein axils, and upper surfaces are dark green with flattened or erect hairs. The small veins are prominent, giving the leaves a wrinkled appearance.
Inflorescences are flat-topped and filled with creamy white flowers with creamy white stamens and anthers extending beyond the petals. Roundish drupes are pale blue.
They grow in moist to dry sandy or rocky, well-drained soils.
Other Common Names: Round-Leaved Dogwood, Stiff Dogwood
Identifying Features: Roundleaf Dogwood has almost round leaves with prominent small veins that give them a wrinkled appearance, pale blue drupes, and pinkish, light maroon, or green, slightly warty bark. It is often confused with Red Osier Dogwood, but that one is usually multi-stemmed with reddish stems, and it has much narrower leaves. Sometimes it is confused with Pagoda Dogwood, but the alternate leaves of that species will quickly differentiate the two.
Native Area: Southeastern and Southcentral Canada and Northeastern and Northcentral USA
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 6 – 12 ft (to 16.6 ft) tall, 6 – 15 ft spread
19. Stiff Dogwood (Cornus foemina)
Stiff Dogwood is another lovely but overlooked Native American shrub. It has clustered stems with gray-brown to gray-black bark that is corky with checkered grooves when mature. Twigs are deep red above and pale green below, or all green or bronze if fully shaded.
Lenticels are pale circular spots that often overlap, creating longitudinal lines.
Leaves are lanceolate to elliptic with a wedge-shaped to rounded base and long-pointed or obtuse tip. The lower surface is pale green, and the upper is dark green with a red or maroon midvein. Both surfaces have flattened hairs.
Inflorescences are flat-topped to pyramidal with cream-colored flowers followed by blue or violet drupes that often turn whitish-blue to white.
Easily grown in full sun to part shade in fertile, moist to wet, slightly acidic soils, it has no known disease or pest issues.
An eastern USA endemic, it’s Imperiled in Oklahoma and New Jersey.
Other Common Names: Gray Dogwood, Swamp Dogwood, Southern Swamp Dogwood
Identifying Features: Stiff Dogwood’s shrubby habit and inflorescences of small creamy white flowers are often confused with other shrubby dogwoods with similar flowers. Its dark bark can differentiate it with checkered grooves that are not usually seen in other shrub dogwoods. Its often multi-colored twigs, red or maroon midveins, and pale lenticels that overlap, creating longitudinal lines, can also help identify it.
Native Area: Endemic to the eastern USA from Oklahoma and Texas east to North Carolina, plus Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey
USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 10
Average Size at Maturity: 8 – 15 ft (to 26 ft) tall, 10 – 15 ft spread
20. Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)
Pagoda Dogwoods are deciduous shrubs or small trees with clustered stems that make a lovely addition to any landscape.
It has thick, corky bark that breaks into rectangular plates. Twigs are hairless, usually green to yellowish green but can be reddish brown. Lenticels are lentil-shaped and split the bark in small vertical grooves.
Leaves are arranged alternately on the stem, very unusual in the family, and they are narrow or broadly ovate with a wedge-shaped base and long-pointed tip, though sometimes it has a tiny pointy tip. The lower surface is yellow-green, bumpy, and has flattened hairs, while the upper surface is smooth and dark green. Leaves turn a soft maroon in the fall.
Inflorescences are flat or hemispheric with 50 – 100 small whitish flowers followed by roundish bleu drupes.
It grows in dry woods, rocky slopes, and rich woodlands in well-drained soil. It is not considered invasive anywhere.
Other Common Names: Alternate-Leaved Dogwood, Green Osier Dogwood, Green Osi, Golden Shadows
Identifying Features: Pagoda Dogwood can be quickly differentiated from almost all other Cornus species by its leaves that are single at the nodes and arranged alternately on the branches and twigs rather than in opposite pairs at the nodes as they are in most members of the genus (see below). Its hairless twigs, many-flowered inflorescences, and its bluish drupes will also help ascertain a positive identification.
Native Area: Eastern North America from Manitoba east to Newfoundland, Canada, in the USA from Minnesota south to Mississippi and east to Florida
USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 12 – 20 ft (to 40 ft) tall, 10 – 20 ft (to 32 ft) spread
21. Creeping Dogwood (Cornus canadensis)
When talking about dogwood species, I could not leave out the gorgeous Creeping Dogwood.
It’s a very low-growing deciduous herb-like shrub with creeping rhizomes. Glossy light to dark green leaves are opposite but appear whorled in groups of four or six.
The inflorescence has 12-40 small creamy-white flowers in the center of four showy white or greenish-white petal-like bracts. They produce small roundish red drupes.
Cornus x unalaschkensis, Western Bunchberry from the Pacific Northwest (pictured above), looks almost identical and is often included in the same species. The main difference is the purple stripe on the flower petals (not bracts) instead of creamy white (picture below left).
They prefer moist acidic soil and make an excellent ground cover in the shade and partial shade, doing exceptionally well under trees, including conifers like spruce, fir, and even cedar. It will grow in full sun, provided the soil is kept moist.
Other Common Names: Dwarf Dogwood, Canadian Dwarf Cornel, Canadian Bunchberry, Crackerberry
Identifying Features: Creeping Dogwood has large, showy bracts similar to many of our tree dogwoods, but it is a very small herb-like shrub, always staying under a foot in height. This makes it impossible to mistake them for other dogwoods, even when young, as the others will never bloom when they are that small, whereas these bloom profusely. The Western Bunchberry and Creeping Dogwood can be differentiated by the color of their flower petals (not bracts) which have a purple stripe in the Western Bunchberry, not seen in Creeping Dogwood.
Native Area: North temperate Canada, Northern USA, and further south in the USA throughout the Rocky Mountains, plus Greenland, Asia, and Russian Far East
USDA Growing Zones: 2 – 6
Average Size at Maturity: ¼ – ¾ ft tall, ¼ – ¾ ft spread
Dogwood trees and shrubs are beautiful plants, both in gardens and in their native habitats. They provide abundant wildlife values, including cover, shelter, nesting sites, and food to numerous insects, birds, deer, rabbits, and more.
They also provide structural diversity to the open forests, forest edges, and riparian habitats they often inhabit.
Their wood is sometimes used for specialty products like jewelry boxes, wood carvings, and other wood crafts.
Native peoples often used dogwood root, stems, and twig bark medicinally to treat fevers and colic and as a substitute for quinine to treat malaria.
Finally, they also provide an assortment of aesthetic qualities, from their beautiful showy petal-like bracts to their pretty inflorescences of small flowers and their assortment of colorful drupes and aggregate fruits.
Their rich green or sometimes variegated leaves provide us with summer, fall, and sometimes even winter colors, and their colorful and variously patterned bark provides year-round beauty for all to enjoy.
In a landscape or garden, they are a perfect choice for a small garden thanks to their usually small compact size.
They are also very easy to grow. Once established, they require very little care other than perhaps occasional pruning or top-ups of organic matter for those adapted to wetlands but grown in drier soils.
Now you have the skills you need to identify all the beautiful dogwood species around you, go out and enjoy!
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Lyrae grew up in the forests of BC, Canada, where she got a BSc. in Environmental Sciences.
Her whole life, she has loved studying plants, from the tiniest
flowers to the most massive trees.
She is currently researching native plants of North America and spends her time traveling, hiking, documenting, and writing.
When not researching or writing, she is homeschooling her brilliant autistic son, who travels with her and benefits from a unique hands-on education about the environment around him.