Chinese dogwood (Cornus kousa) is the latest of the dogwoods to flower in my garden. The dogwood season began this year as the native dogwood (Cornus florida) began to bloom the last week of March, two to three weeks earlier than is typical.
Hybrid dogwoods introduced by Rutgers University that combine the native American and Chinese dogwoods, and Chinese and Pacific coast dogwoods (Cornus nutalli), usually flower in early May, just after the natives fade, but this year they were fully in bloom by mid April. Fortunately, the temperatures in late April were cool, so the flowers persisted an additional week into May (‘Venus’ dogwood, below).
There are many selections of Chinese dogwoods, and most are more low branched and shrubby than the native American dogwood. The Chinese dogwood is notable for large white flowers (bracts) that will often nearly obscure the tree’s foliage for several weeks in late spring. Foliage is variable between selections (some leaves are more rounded, others not), but it is often glossier than the eastern American dogwood, and more resistant to foliar diseases. The Chinese dogwood is also highly resistant to other diseases that afflict the native, and it is rarely bothered by insects or other pests.
Most Chinese dogwoods have green leaves and white flowers, and there is a range of forms from low growing, shrub-like trees to others that are quite upright in habit. The popular selection ‘Milky Way’ is often wider than it is tall, while ‘Galilean’ (above) displays a classic tree form with a central trunk and it is much taller than wide.
‘Satomi’ Chinese dogwood (above) is a wide spreading tree with glossy, rounded foliage that often turns remarkable shades of red and orange in autumn (below). It’s flowers are pink, though in my Virginia garden they are usually almost white with a blush of pink. In mid June I see ‘Satomi’ in western Oregon in cooler temperatures and lower humidity, and the blooms are much pinker, so I suppose that the warmer, more humid Virginia spring is responsible for the color difference.
I have two variegated leaf Chinese dogwoods in the garden, the wide spreading ‘Wolf Eye’ (below) and the more upright growing ‘Samaritan’. The foliage of ‘Wolf Eye’ curls so that it is not as attractive as the flatter leaves of ‘Samaritan’. Unfortunately, I’ve planted ‘Samaritan’ in a bit too much shade so that it rarely flowers, though the foliage grows splendidly. Most years ‘Wolf Eye’ blooms nicely, though this year the flowers are more sparse than usual.
The Chinese dogwood is a wonderful tree, not better than the native American, or the hybrids. Each has its unique attributes, and distinct season to flower. I have several of each, and to my thinking planting one or two of each is preferable to choosing between exceptional trees