The dogwood family comprises many varieties of flowering deciduous and evergreen shrubs and trees. In fact, they all have "attractive foliage and blossoms," according to "Sunset Western Garden Book." But while some produce only flowers, others make bracts, modified leaves that look like showy petals and support the true, but barely visible, flowers.
Tatarian Dogwood (Cornus alba)
Tatarian dogwood produces clusters of creamy white flowers. In late summer to fall, the tree also bears white or light-blue berries. Its fall foliage changes to red and so do its winter branches. Cornus alba thrives in full sun and partial shade as long as it receives regular moisture in well-drained soil. It reaches a mature height of 8 to 10 feet with a spread of equal size. This small tree develops in a round shape with arching stems.
Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)
The University of Maine Cooperative Extension describes Cornus alternifolia as "a graceful-looking small tree with horizontally-tiered branches that turn upward at the ends." The pagoda-like shape gives the tree its common name. This dogwood species grows 20 to 30 feet tall, spreading about two-thirds as wide. In spring, creamy white flowers bloom above the green foliage. In late summer, they fade, making way for blue or purple-red berries that attract a number of birds, such as robins, scarlet tanagers and purple finches. This tree also tolerates shade and moderately drained soil.
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)
Unlike most dogwoods, which are trees and tall shrubs, bunchberry is a ground cover 3 to 8 inches high. It produces white bracts that surround very small green flowers. When they fade by late summer, red berries appear. This dogwood species likes moist, acidic soil enriched with organic matter. It also needs shade and a planting site that stays cool in the summer.
Evergreen Dogwood (Cornus capitata)
Evergreen dogwood grows as a shrub or tree, according to "Sunset Western Garden Book." A Himalayan native, it is hardy to below-freezing temperatures down to minus 9 degrees Fahrenheit. It grows 20 to 30 feet tall and spreads just as wide. Although this dogwood is a flowering plant, it takes eight to 10 years for it to bloom for the first time. (The process may be quicker if you propagate yours from a cutting.) When it does bloom, you’ll see clusters of small flowers in spring surrounded by pale yellow bracts.
Giant Dogwood (Cornus controversa)
Giant dogwood grows 30 to 50 feet tall and spreads up to 35 feet wide. Its dark green leaves are 5 to 8 inches long and turn red in the fall. In spring, clusters of white blooms appear, measuring 5 inches across. After the flowers fade, the tree makes blue or black berries, attracting birds and small mammals to your garden. This tree does well in full sun or partial shade and in acidic, well-drained soil.
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