Native dogwood (Cornus florida) trees have it all: graceful, yet architectural, flowers unfurling as temperatures warm, seen above, an ability to thrive beneath larger trees and in shady spots, bright red, late summer berries that birds love, beautiful, subtle fall color also seen above, and winter interest in their fabulous arching structure that improves with age.
Still, in the Chesapeake watershed, we often plant the Asian kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa), pictured immediately above. We inherited two in our garden and added a third for design reasons. I later missed the beauty of native dogwoods and added two to compensate — hard to do a lot of that in a 1/8 acre garden! All by way of saying, the kousa dogwoods are different. Kousas bloom in June with a more basic flower and their berries are gum ball size as opposed to the seed size of the native dogwood. To me, the kousa dogwood does not have as lovely a fall color as the native dogwood, although many would disagree. Kousa dogwoods do have a more interesting mottled bark. Their structure, though, is vase like and not nearly as graceful as the structure of the native dogwood tree below.
Kousas became popular due to their disease resistance. For a time in the mid-Atlantic, native dogwoods were particularly prone to anthracnose, a fungal disease affecting native dogwoods. In our area, some nurseries stopped carrying native dogwoods because of the disease but then began carrying them again as the threat of disease seemed to have lessened and disease resistant varieties became available. We have had six native dogwoods in the four Chesapeake gardens we have tended over time, one over 70 years old, and have never had any issue with disease.
If I could only plant one tree, native dogwood would be the one!
For more information:
For a great overview of buying and planting disease resistant native dogwoods in the mid-Atlantic, please see this discussion in the Washington Post by Adrian Higgins.
For general information, please look here.