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Dogwood Trees, Shrubs and Subshrubs

Members of the Cornus Genus

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Dogwoods are placed in the genus Cornus and include trees, shrubs and subshrubs that are native to Asia, Europe and North America. They are placed in the Cornaceae family and are divided into four subgenera: Benthamidia, Chamaepericlymenum, Cornus and Swida. These subgenera are sometimes used as the genus name instead of Cornus.

You can identify a dogwood by looking for leaves with veins that curve parallel to the margins (edges). Flowers may or may not feature large bracts, like those of the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida). They produce drupes once pollination has occurred. Many species have edible fruit, though not all actually taste good. Avoid the fruit of the species under Swida as they can be poisonous for humans.

They are also known for their opposite branching (the D in the mnemonic MAD Horse), so check to see if that is present when trying to identify your tree or shrub.

Some species have branches that are yellow or red, which is an excellent addition of color for the winter landscape. The leaves also provide an autumn show.

1. Canadian Bunchberry

Picture of Canadian bunchberry
Image by peupleloup via Flickr
  • Latin Name: Cornus canadensis
  • Other Common Names: Crackerberry, bearberry, low cornel, pudding berry, Canadian dwarf cornel, pigeonberry, bunchplum, bunchberry dogwood, creeping dogwood, squirrelberry, dwarf dogwood, dogwood bunchberry, ground dogwood
  • Native to: North America, Greenland, northeastern Asia
  • USDA Zones: 2-7
  • Height: 2-12" tall
  • Placed in Subgenera: Chamaepericlymenum

The Canadian bunchberry is one of two subshrubs on this list. The bunchberries are the fastest plants in the world and fling out their pollen at astonishing speeds up to 24,000 m/s². It has the potential to clone itself through rhizomes and spread throughout your yard.

2. Common Dogwood

Picture of common dogwood
Image by Drew Avery via Flickr
  • Latin Name: Cornus sanguinea
  • Other Common Names: Bloodtwig dogwood, European dogwood
  • Native to: Western Asia and Europe
  • USDA Zones: 4-7
  • Height: 6-20' tall
  • Placed in Subgenera: Swida

This shrub shows off its green and red stems in the winter. You will likely need to prune it yearly (or perhaps even more) to keep it in check as it can spread.

3. Cornelian Cherry

Picture of the Cornelian cherry
Image by wallygrom via Flickr
  • Latin Name: Cornus mas
  • Other Common Names: European cornel
  • Native to: Southern Europe and southwest Asia
  • USDA Zones: 5-8 (May grow in Zone 4)
  • Height: 15-25' tall
  • Placed in Subgenera: Cornus

The Cornelian cherry is one of the earliest trees to flower each year. You can harvest the fruit of this tree once they have ripened and fallen to the ground. They can then be used to make liquors, jams, desserts, pickles and sauces.

4. Flowering Dogwood

Photo of flowering dogwood
Image by miluz via Flickr
  • Latin Name: Cornus florida
  • Native to: Eastern North America
  • USDA Zones: 5-9
  • Height: 15-40' tall
  • Placed in Subgenera: Benthamidia

When many people think of dogwoods, they are envisioning this species. Each set of flowers is surrounded by four bracts that can be white, pink or red, depending on the variety. You can choose the flowering dogwood if you have a location with afternoon shade and acidic soil. This species and the Pacific dogwood are prone to getting dogwood anthracnose, which can be controlled by pruning away affected branches. It is the state tree of North Carolina.

5. Kousa Dogwood

Picture of the Kousa dogwood, which is also known as the Japanese flowering dogwood
Image by bsabarnowl via Flickr
  • Latin Name: Cornus kousa
  • Other Common Names: Chinese dogwood, Korean dogwood, Japanese dogwood
  • Native to: Eastern Asia
  • USDA Zones: 5-8
  • Height: 15-30' tall
  • Placed in Subgenera: Benthamidia

The Kousa dogwood features an abundant display of flowers and fruit every year. It can be used in areas of drought. The bark features many lenticels. Prune away a few of the lower branches so that the trunk can receive more light, which causes it to change colors and feature spots of yellow and white on the brown bark.

6. Northern Swamp Dogwood

Picture of the northern swamp dogwood
Image by gmayfield10 via Flickr
  • Latin Name: Cornus racemosa
  • Other Common Names: Gray dogwood, panicled dogwood, grey dogwood, gray-stemmed dogwood
  • Native to: Eastern North America
  • USDA Zones: 4-8
  • Height: 4-15' tall
  • Placed in Subgenera: Swida

Look for this species to have new bark that is orange-brown each year. As it ages, it will fade to gray. The northern swamp dogwood features white flowers that produce white fruits. The pedicels are red. Like some of the other shrubby dogwoods, this species has the potential to form suckers and spread.

7. Pacific Dogwood

Picture of the Pacific dogwood
Image by echoforsberg via Flickr
  • Latin Name: Cornus nuttallii
  • Other Common Names: Mountain dogwood, western flowering dogwood, mountain flowering dogwood
  • Native to: British Columbia, California, Idaho, Oregon, Washington
  • USDA Zones: 7-9
  • Height: Usually 15-40' tall. Can reach 75' or more.
  • Placed in Subgenera: Benthamidia

The Pacific dogwood can handle areas with shade. It can also be drought tolerant once the roots have had a full growing season of consistent watering to become established. Fruits on this species are reddish-orange. Watch out for dogwood anthracnose.

8. Pagoda Dogwood

Picture of the pagoda dogwood
Image by MeganEHansen via Flickr
  • Latin Name: Cornus alternifolia
  • Other Common Names: Alternate leaf dogwood, green osier, alternate-leaved dogwood
  • Native to: Eastern North America
  • USDA Zones: 4-7
  • Height: 15-35' tall
  • Placed in Subgenera: Swida

The common name of alternate-leaved dogwood gives you a major clue for the identification of this species; there are only a few species where the leaves are arranged alternatively on the branch. The branches form in layers and the crown is flat, suggestive of a pagoda. 'Argentea' is a beautiful variegated variety.

9. Red Osier Dogwood

Photo of Red Osier Dogwood
Image by born1945 via Flickr
  • Latin Name: Cornus sericea
  • Other Common Names: Red twig dogwood, dogberry tree, western dogwood, waxberry cornel, American dogwood, shoemack, redstem dogwood, poison dogwood, red dogwood, harts rouges, kinnikinnick, red willow, squawbush, red-rood, gutter tree, creek dogwood, redosier, redbrush, California dogwood, red-stemmed cornel
  • Native to: North America
  • USDA Zones: 2-7
  • Height: Usually 6-12' tall
  • Placed in Subgenera: Swida

This medium shrub will stand out in your landscape because the stems start turning red at the end of summer or beginning of fall. As time goes on, the shade keeps brightening until it becomes very red in winter, providing a perfect contrast to a snowy or bare landscape.They become green again in the spring.

10. Rough Leaf Dogwood

Picture of the rough leaf dogwood
Image by lcm1863 via Flickr
  • Latin Name: Cornus drummondii
  • Other Common Names: White cornel, Drummond's dogwood, cornel dogwood, roughleaf dogwood, small-flower dogwood
  • Native to: North America
  • USDA Zones: 4-9
  • Height: 10-15' tall
  • Placed in Subgenera: Swida

Feel the coarse hairs found on the leaves in this species and you will see why this is named the rough leaf dogwood. This is another Cornus species that may do well in your shadier spots, though there will be more flowers and fruit if it is planted in a location that receives full sunlight. It may also form colonies in your yard through suckers.

11. Stiff Dogwood

Picture of the stiff dogwood
Image by homeredwardprice via Flickr
  • Latin Name: Cornus foemina
  • Other Common Names: Swamp dogwood, stiff cornel, English dogwood, gray dogwood
  • Native to: United States
  • USDA Zones: 4-9
  • Height: 15-25' tall
  • Placed in Subgenera: Swida

The fruits on this shrub are a brilliant shade of blue. The small white flowers appear in clusters called cymes.

12. Swedish Cornel

Photo of the Swedish cornel
Image by Ole Husby via Flickr
  • Latin Name: Cornus suecica
  • Other Common Names: Bunchberry, dwarf cornel, Lapland cornel, Eurasian dwarf cornel, bog bunchberry, Eurasian bunchberry, dwarf Northern cornel
  • Native to: Europe, Asia and North America
  • USDA Zones: Hardy down to Zone 2
  • Height: 8" tall
  • Placed in Subgenera: Chamaepericlymenum

The Swedish cornel is a subshrub that has dark purple flowers and white bracts. It grows best in moist spots and is often found in areas like bogs.

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