A Dogwood’s Life
I learned something the other day about native dogwood trees. There are two types you are most likely to find in the Chicago area: flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) and pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia).
Flowering dogwoods are not common in Chicago, but you will see one occasionally. They are very hard to find in area nurseries. I had always thought that the reason was anthracnose, a disease that has killed many dogwoods in the eastern half of the country. This is a shame because the flowering dogwood is an extremely beautiful small tree, and the red berries are a very valuable food for birds.
I had been resistant to planting a flowering dogwood because of the potential for disease. Judy, though, has been hankering after one and last year I gave in and ordered a bare root flowering dogwood from ForestFarm. I coddled it last year with lots of extra water and top dressings of compost, and it has just survived its first winter.
Flowering dogwoods have a better chance, of course, with an appropriate site: light shade and moist, slightly acidic soil. The spot I chose has the shade and the moisture, but not acidic soil.
Pagoda dogwood is sometimes mentioned as a good alternative to flowering dogwood. Pagoda dogwood is admired for it’s horizontal branching, but the flowers are ho hum compared to flowering dogwood . Like flowering dogwood, pagoda dogwood is a high value tree for birds. I would say this tree is considerably more common in my area than flowering dogwood.
Last Saturday I was talking to Lynette Rodriguez, the instructor at the class I’ve just started at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Lynette has been a horticulturist at the Garden and now owns a garden design and maintenance firm, A Finer Touch.
Lynette said that in the Chicago area, it’s the pagoda dogwood that is more vulnerable to anthracnose. The reason: it likes a cooler climate, and is happier in places like Wisconsin and Minnesota. The more common problem here with flowering dogwood is hardiness. However, hardiness is not as much of an issue in areas closer to Lake Michigan, where the winters are somewhat moderated.
So, my fellow Chicago-area gardeners: think twice before planting a pagoda dogwood! And consider the beautiful flowering dogwood!
Probably more common in Chicago than either C. florida or C. alternifolia is the exotic Chinese Dogwood (C. kousa). Chinese dogwood has flowers similar to the flowering dogwood, but its berries are not attractive to North American birds. There are also a number of hybrids between the native and Chinese dogwoods.
Do you have a dogwood tree in your garden, and if so, what kind?