12 Species of Dogwood Trees and Shrubs

Dogwood flowers
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Dogwoods include a large group of flowering woody trees and shrubs within the genus Cornus. The genus also includes some species that are best described as subshrubs—fast-growing woody plants that tend to die back in winter to ground level and grow back from buds near the base of the plant. These plants are known for providing year-round interest, from early spring flowers to summer berries to brilliant fall color. Some species even have colorful stems that offer winter appeal. With species that are native to Asia, Europe, and North America, as well as dozens of cultivars, you'll have no problem choosing a dogwood suited to your purpose.

You can identify a dogwood by looking for smooth-edges leaves with veins that curve parallel to the margins (edges). Flowers may or may not feature large bracts like those of the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida). After pollination, they produce a type of fruit known as a drupe. Many species have edible fruit, though not all actually taste good. Dogwoods are also known for their opposite branching, a characteristic that can be helpful for identifying them. A few species, however, have leaves that alternate on the stems.

Dogwoods are frequently used as flowering specimen shrubs and trees in the landscape; the wood is also popular in carving and other forms of woodworking.

Some Dogwoods Are Toxic

While many dogwoods produce fruit that can be used in cooking, a few species have berries that are mildly toxic to people, although birds can eat them safely. Some people also report skin rashes from contact with the leaves and bark of dogwoods. If there is a chance of human consumption or contact, always check out the species before planting it.

  • 01 of 12

    Canadian Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)

    Canadian Bunchberry
    Alan Majchrowicz/Getty Images

    The Canadian bunchberry (also known simply as bunchberry or dwarf cornel) is one of two subshrubs in this group. It is a member of the subgenera Chamaepericlymenum and is a very low, spreading plant that spreads by rhizomes. It has glossy dark-green leaves with conspicuous veins. The white flowers give way to red fruits in late summer, which are edible for humans. Fall foliage color is red to purple.

    • Native Area: North America, Greenland, northeastern Asia
    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 6
    • Height: 2 to 12 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade
  • 02 of 12

    Common Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea)

    Common Dogwood
    Matt Anker/Getty Images

    Also known as bloodtwig dogwood or European dogwood, this species is an upright deciduous shrub with multiple stems. A member of the Swida subspecies, the fruit of this plant should not be eaten by humans. Its leaves are elliptical to oval in shape, and dull white flowers in late spring give way to blue-black fruit in August, which should not be eaten. Fall foliage is sometimes an attractive red-purple. Young plants may have attractive red stems, but this sometimes fades to dull green in mature plants. You will likely need to prune common dogwood yearly (or perhaps even more) to keep it in check, as it can spread.

    • Native Area: Western Asia and Europe
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 7
    • Height: 8 to 15 feet; some cultivars are dwarf
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 03 of 12

    Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas)

    Cornelian Cherry
    Neil Holmes/Getty Images

    The cornelian cherry (also known as European cornel) is a large shrub or small tree that is one of the earliest woody plants to flower each year. This species produces yellow flowers bloom in early spring before the leaves appear. The oval leaves are about 4 inches long, and the fruits turn cherry red in mid-summer. You can harvest the fruit of this tree once it has ripened and fallen to the ground, and use it to make liquors, jams, desserts, pickles, and sauces. Fall color is not very showy.

    • Native Area: Europe and western Asia
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Height: 15 to 25 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 04 of 12

    Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

    Flowering dogwood
    Garden Photo World/Georgianna Lane/Getty Images

    When many people think of dogwoods, this is the plant they envision. Flowering dogwood is a small deciduous tree that blooms with white, pink, or red flowers in early spring; it is the state tree of North Carolina. Flowering dogwood has a low-branching habit with a flattish crown. Dark green leaves, 3 to 6 inches long, turn an attractive red in fall. This is a good specimen tree for a location with acidic soil and afternoon shade. This species and the Pacific dogwood are prone to dogwood anthracnose, which can be controlled by pruning away affected branches. You may want to avoid planting where anthracnose is known to be a problem.

    Note: You should NOT eat the fruit of this plant, as it is considered mildly toxic.

    • Native area: Eastern North America
    • USDA zones: 5 to 9
    • Height: 15 to 30 feet tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
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  • 05 of 12

    Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa)

    Kousa Dogwood
    Masahiro Nakano/a.collectionRF/Getty Images

    Also known as Chinese dogwood, Korean dogwood, or Japanese dogwood, the Kousa dogwood is a small deciduous tree or multi-stemmed shrub. It produces an abundant display of yellowish-green flowers in spring and pinkish-red berries in summer. Fall color is purplish to red. This shrub has tan or gray bark that has a mottled, exfoliating texture that can be quite attractive in winter. Lower branches should be pruned away to enhance the appearance of the bark.

    • Native Area: Eastern Asia (Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan)
    • USDA Growing zones: 5 to 8
    • Height: 15 to 30 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 06 of 12

    Gray Dogwood (Cornus racemosa)

    Gray dogwood

    S / Getty Images

    Also known as northern swamp dogwood, gray dogwood is a deciduous shrub that forms thickets as the underground rhizomes spread. White flowers appear in late spring, leading to white berries in summer—they are edible to birds but should not be eaten by humans. The dark-green leaves are lance-shaped and turn purplish-red in the fall. Look for this species to have new bark that is orange-brown each year. As the bark ages, it fades to gray.

    • Native area: Eastern North America
    • USDA Growing zones: 4 to 8
    • Height: 10 to 15 feet
    • Subgenera: Swida
  • 07 of 12

    Mountain Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii)

    Mountain dogwood

    J. Maughn / Flickr / CC By 2.0 

    The mountain dogwood (sometimes known as Pacific dogwood) is a medium-sized deciduous tree that has an excellent tolerance for shady locations and dry, drought conditions. It is often considered the western version of the flowering dogwood, but with this plant, the white flowers are quite large and the fall color is yellow, orange, or red. The small fruits are bright orange or red.

    Like flowering dogwood, this plant is quite susceptible to dogwood anthracnose disease; check with local authorities before planting it, as it may be discouraged.

    • Native area: Western North America (British Columbia, California, Idaho, Oregon, Washington)
    • USDA Growing Zones: 7 to 9
    • Height: Usually 15 to 40 feet; occasionally 75 feet or more
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 08 of 12

    Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

    Pagoda dogwood

     

    izzzy71 / Getty Images

    The various common names for this plant will help you identify it. Also known as alternate-leaf dogwood, this plant is one of very few dogwoods that have leaves arranged alternately rather than in opposite positions on the stems. This is generally a multi-stemmed deciduous shrub, though it can take the form of a small tree with proper pruning. The branches form in layers and the crown is flat, suggestive of a pagoda. The cultivar 'Argentea' is a beautiful variegated variety.

    • Native area: Eastern North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Height: 15 to 25 feet tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
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  • 09 of 12

    Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea)

    Red osier dogwood

     

    ElrondPeredhil / Getty Images

    This medium-sized shrub, also known as red osier dogwood, will stand out in your landscape because the stems start turning red at the end of summer or beginning of fall. As time goes on, the shade keeps brightening until it becomes very red in winter, providing a perfect contrast to a snowy or bare landscape. The stems become green again in the spring. The dark green leaves evolve through red and orange color before becoming purple in the fall. The whitish flowers are not very significant, but the white drupe/berries are attractive to birds.

    • Native Area: North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Height: 6 to 12 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 10 of 12

    Rough Leaf Dogwood (Cornus drummondii)

    Rough Leaf Dogwood

    Dan Mullen / Flickr / CC By 2.0 

    Feel the coarse hairs found on the leaves in this species and you will see why this is named the rough leaf dogwood. This is another Cornus species that may do well in your shadier spots, though there will be more flowers and fruit if it is planted in a location that receives full sunlight. It may also form colonies in your yard via suckers. Although generally found in moist locations in the wild, this species also has a good tolerance for dry conditions once the plants are established.

    • Native area: Eastern North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Height: 6 to 15 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 11 of 12

    Stiff Dogwood (Cornus foemina)

    Stiff dogwood

    Melissa McMasters / Flickr / CC By 2.0 

    Stiff dogwood (also known as swamp dogwood and swamp dogwood) is a large shrub or small tree. The fruits on this shrub are a brilliant shade of blue. The small white flowers appear in clusters called cymes, and have an unpleasant odor. Fall color is an attractive burgundy-red or purple.

    • Native area: Eastern and southeastern U.S.
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Height: 15 to 25 feet
    • Sun exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 12 of 12

    Swedish Cornel (Cornus suecica)

    Swedish Cornel


    Dieter Hopf / Getty Images

    The Swedish cornel is another subshrub that has dark purple flowers and white bracts. It grows best in moist spots and is often found in boggy areas. Also known as bunchberry, dwarf cornel, or bog bunchberry, this is a common plant in arctic, tundra-type terrain. It is rarely planted in landscapes, except in mountainous alpine gardens.

    • Native Area: Arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 2
    • Height: 8 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

Each of these dogwood species may be available in different cultivars that offer unique features, such as dwarf size, variegated leaf color, or unusual bark or stem color.

Dogwoods are among the best trees and shrubs for providing year-round interest—from early spring flowers to red summer berries to brilliant fall colors. But they perform their best when planted in moist, fertile soil; and in a location with dappled light. When conditions are not ideal, they can be susceptible to a large range of bacterial and fungal problems. Spot anthracnose, septoria leaf spot, and powdery mildew are all common conditions that may affect the leaves of dogwoods. Root rots and canker disease can occur when conditions are too moist. Scale insects and dogwood borers are the most common insect pests affecting dogwoods.

Growing Tip

Avoid over-fertilizing your dogwood plants, as it can cause the leaves to burn or can even kill the plant. Well-balanced soils may not require any fertilizing at all; however, where soils are lacking in nutrients, use a slow-release fertilizer with the correct balance for dogwoods. A slow-release general-purpose balanced fertilizer with a 16-4-9 ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium is often recommended.