Queen of Spring Flowering Trees

Story by Lynn Caddy | Photography by Norine Rowe | Reprinted from Spring 2002
Native to Southern Maryland, dogwoods are under story forest trees (growing under the canopy of other trees). They will grow in full sunlight with some afternoon shade to protect them from the hot summer sun, but they mostly prefer dappled shade. Their average height is approximately 15-20 feet tall People have been enjoying their beautiful showy white spring blooms, called bracts, since the Native Americans were roaming Southern Maryland’s virgin forests.
 The settlers name to our dogwood, area as the called first them, English is derived from the Old English dagge or dagger, meaning spike or sharp point. The dog­wood is a semi­-hardwood. There are over one hundred species of dog­woods, ranging from low-growing bush-like herbaceous plants, to large trees. The native dogwoods (botanical name Camus Florida) generally always have beautiful white blooms in the spring. However, some people in southern states say they have seen pink dogwoods growing in the wild, but that is rare. A pink blooming dogwood is a grafted tree that nurserymen have to produce from a pink color scion, grafted onto a white seedling. In the fall come the pretty red berries, which are food for birds and other wildlife. Dogwood leaves are spectacular in the fall as they turn dark burgundy, red, and bright yellow. Dogwoods are beautiful ornamental trees planted together in group­ings or as a single specimen.
Trying to transplant a dogwood from the woods is extremely difficult. They rarely live since it is almost impossible to duplicate exactly the conditions in which they got started. Nursery grown trees are a better choice for planting in the home garden. In addi­tion to some shade, they prefer an acid soil, a reasonable amount of water, until well established, and mulch around their roots to help keep the soil cooler in the summer. If kept mulched, there is no need for extra fertilizer. The mulch will slowly decompose to provide enough nourishment. The mulch should not be piled up against the trunk. In the absence of regular rainfall once the tree is established, some supplemental water may be needed. Too much water will rot the roots and the tree will die. Let the tree grow into its natural shape. Very lit­tle pruning is needed except for dead limbs and better light and air circulation.
 The native dogwood, Cornus Florida is the favorite of certified horticulture: and Master Gardener Robyn Affron who works at the· Greenery Nursery in Hollywood. “The best and most beautiful ornamental tree for anyone’s yard in the Southern Maryland area is a dogwood tree. It will feed up to 100 species of wildlife,” she says. Robyn also recom­mends that care is needed as to the plant­ing location in the home garden. “Dogwoods need some protection from the afternoon sun during our hot sum­mers. Aside from the shade good air cir­culation is needed. Also, be sure to give extra water during regional frequent summer dry spells.”

In recent years, a fungus of unknown origin, Anthracnose, has been moving into this area from New England down through the Appalachians and into Maryland killing dogwoods in natural areas as well as residential gardens. In response, growers and nurseries have begun to import oriental dogwood trees­ Comus kousa; also known as Korean or Chinese Dogwood that are apparently nearly impervious to the fungus as well as being more sun and drought resistant. These varieties have a later blooming habit, usually June and are very vigorous with prolific flower production. Their bracts are pointed and last longer. Dogwood shrubs have also been imported.
In Christian mythology the legend of the dogwood tree, which, long ago grew straight and tall was used to make the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. At the cru­cifixion, because the tree was so distressed, Jesus promised that henceforth, the tree would only grow slender and twisted. The four petals of the flowers would be in the shape of the cross. The edge of the petals, from that day forward, would carry stained nail prints and the centers would look like the Crown of Thorns. ♦