6 Best Dogwood Tree Varieties

Branch of dogwood tree with white blooms.
William Manning/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images

It would be difficult to pick a "best in show" from among the dogwoods (Cornus genus), because they boast such an impressive diversity. Some types take the form of trees and are valued as structural plants (due to their interesting branching patterns), while also furnishing your landscaping with colorful spring flowers and fall foliage. But don't limit your choices to the trees.

Bush-form dogwoods have plenty to offer your landscaping in their own right (as explained below), and some of the tree-form types spend the early part of their life looking a lot like shrubs. And just when you think the Cornus genus has shown you all it's got, it pulls a rabbit out of its hat and reveals an anomaly, like that tiny mutt, bunchberry, that insists on running with the big dogs.

If you are ready to be surprised by the dogwoods, check out the following six best varieties: 

  • 01 of 06

    Pink Flowering Dogwoods

    Pink dogwood flower - Cornus florida.
    David Beaulieu

    When North Americans hear "dogwoods," what may first come to mind are trees with beautiful pink flowers. These trees bloom while we're still eagerly craving any kind of blossoms in the yard after the long winter. Their good timing in this regard wins them a special place in our hearts.

    The so-called "flowering dogwoods" (Cornus florida) are North American natives. You have more than one choice if you desire a pink dogwood for your own yard, including:

    The various types of dogwoods boast their own signature features that make them interesting even when not in flower. In the case of Cornus florida, there are two such features:

    1. They are outstanding structural plants
    2. Their leaves can exhibit good fall color

    The Cornus florida has an attractive branching pattern that is more horizontal than on most trees. Any tree can be considered a structural plant, but specimens that offer a little something extra, some unusual characteristic, carry additional value.

    Structural plants and other components of a garden's "bones" or structure (e.g., hardscape) are important elements of your landscaping. They may take a subsidiary role as backdrops or framing when the yard is alive with flowering shrubs and perennials, or they may assume center stage when these complementary plants have taken a back seat. The latter scenario occurs during Northern winters, which is why those who landscape in frosty climes may have the most reason to be appreciative of structural plants.

  • 02 of 06

    'Wolf Eyes': Bush-Type Japanese Dogwoods

    Wolf Eyes, a variegated Japanese dogwood (kousa)
    "Wolf Eyes," a variegated Japanese dogwood. David Beaulieu

    As popular as Cornus florida is among the dogwoods, it must be content with sharing the limelight with another tree-form plant in this genus: Cornus kousa (Japanese dogwood). As with Cornus florida, the novice may grow Japanese dogwoods primarily for their flowers. But old pros value them for some of their less obvious traits, as well. For example, some types bear good fall color.

    The 'Wolf Eyes' is a small tree (10 feet when it matures) that grows slowly, essentially functioning as a shrub for a number of years after installation. In fall its leaves pick up a pink tinge at the margin.

    Even the novice could tell by looking that kousa dogwoods are related to flowering dogwoods. But for all their similarities, C. kousa does differ from its American cousin:

    • It blooms a bit later
    • The flowers taper to more of a point
    • Its berries are not smooth like the berries on C. florida
    • The branching pattern is generally not as horizontal
  • 03 of 06

    Red-Twig Dogwoods

    red twig dogwood
    David Beaulieu

    Red-twig dogwoods fall firmly into the shrub category. They also offer your landscaping something quite different from the types of dogwoods considered so far: colorful bark. Thus the common names "red-twig" dogwood. This bark color is most apparent in winter and in early spring when there are no leaves on the branches to obscure the view. The color may even intensify in spring.

  • 04 of 06

    Yellow-Twig Dogwoods

    yellow-twig dogwood
    David Beaulieu

    As with red-twig, so with the yellow-twig dogwoods: these are not one-dimensional specimens. They are rightly named for the unusual color of their bark, but they are not lacking in other noteworthy features. They have white flowers in spring, which are succeeded in the summer by white berries. The flowers give a flat-top look, as some may be more familiar with through perennials like yarrow.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Pagoda Dogwoods

    Golden Shadow, a variety of pagoda dogwood
    David Beaulieu

    Pagoda dogwoods (Cornus alternifolia) have a branching pattern that is strongly horizontal, making these small trees good structural plants. One type, Golden Shadows, may be at its most interesting in spring, though, due to another of its features: the spring foliage. 

    Although classified as a tree, Golden Shadows will function as a shrub in your landscaping the first several years. Its horizontal branching pattern is so pronounced that it will initially remind you of a ground cover.

  • 06 of 06


    bunchberry dogwood
    David Beaulieu

    Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis, a native plant in New England is a plant anomaly.

    Most people expect a discussion about dogwoods to be limited to trees and, perhaps, bushes. But bunchberry is a runt. Yes, some say that, technically, it's an herbaceous "subshrub," but only a botanist or a garden writer would think of it in those terms. For the average person, bunchberry will be a "wildflower."