12 Types of Dogwood Trees and Shrubs

Dogwood Identification, Sizes, and Growing Requirements

dogwood tree with fall foliage

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Dogwood trees and shrubs (Cornus spp.) include a large group of flowering plants within the genus Cornus. The 17 types of dogwood trees in this genus that are native to the United States also include some species that are best described as subshrubs—fast-growing woody plants that tend to die back in the 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 and summer berries to brilliant fall colors. Some species even have colorful stems that offer winter appeal. Dogwoods are low-maintenance, easy-care trees and usually bloom in either their first or second year without much intervention. 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 tree suited to your purpose.


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How to Identify Dogwood Trees

You can identify a dogwood by looking at three of its physical characteristics: leaves, bark, and fruit.


Dogwood tree leaves are often smooth-edged with veins that curve parallel to the margins (edges). A few species, however, have leaves that alternate on the stems. They are also known for their opposite branching, a characteristic that can help identify the kind of dogwood tree you have.


Dogwood tree bark is scaly. In fact, the bark looks like nearly uniform square scales. Older trees with patched bark may begin to peel.


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.


While many dogwoods produce fruit, a few species have berries that are 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.

Caring for Dogwood Trees


Most dogwood trees and shrubs are considered understory trees and can thrive in part shade, but some varieties also benefit from full sun.


Dogwoods thrive in rich, damp but well-draining soil that's slightly acidic.


Don't let drought affect your dogwoods, they need to be watered deeply in high heat, especially if they are in full sun. Dogwoods usually don't do well in extreme heat or dry conditions.


Dogwood trees should be pruned with a sterile garden cutting tool once a year either in the late fall, winter, or very early spring (March) when a flowering dogwood tree is dormant. Pruning is mostly for aesthetic reasons to reshape the tree and to remove dead branches. Do not prune in spring or summer when the wounds can ooze and pests and infection can set in.

Planting Dogwood Trees

How to Start off a Dogwood Tree

You can start a dogwood tree using cuttings or plant a bare-root sapling purchased at a nursery. Cuttings need early protection with a planting dome and grow lights before planting in the ground. Prune damaged roots from a purchased tree, then transplant it from its tub or burlap wrap by gently place the tree in a hole that's a foot wider than the root spread so the roots can spread out. Use a protective tree sleeve or tube on the tree trunk until the dogwood is established. When the tree is as wide as the tube, it's time to remove the sleeve.

Planting Time

The best time to plant a dogwood tree is in the early spring or early to late fall, depending on your climate. Newly planted dogwood trees will benefit from the moist soil during these two seasons.

Where to Plant

Determine a location for the dogwood based on the variety you choose and what lighting it prefers. Most dogwoods prefer a site with dappled sunlight. Make sure the area does not get very dry and has well-drained soil. Dogwoods are frequently used as flowering specimen shrubs and trees in the landscape. often to create a border for a yard or to define a specific outdoor area.

Growth Rate & Mature Height

How Long Does It Take for a Dogwood Tree to Mature?

Dogwood trees are slow-growing plants. But when they are mature enough, they will begin to bloom. In general, it takes a dogwood tree about five to seven years before it is ready and matures enough to flower.

Mature Height of a Dogwood Tree

The height of a dogwood tree will depend on the variety planted and how much sun it gets. In general, a dogwood planted in full sun can grow to between 15 and 20 feet while a dogwood in the shade can grow double the height up to 40 feet at maturity.

Types of Dogwood Trees

While there are 17 types of dogwoods native to North America, the following 12 varieties are most commonly found.

  • 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-growing 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: East Russia to Japan, Subarctic America to N. & Central U.S
    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 6
    • Height: 6 to 12 inches
    • 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 dogwood shrub is not toxic but has an unpleasant taste. Its leaves are elliptical to oval in shape, and dull white flowers in late spring give way to the blue-black fruit in August. 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: 5 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 that 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. The fall color is not very showy.

    • Native Area: Europe and western Asia
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Height: 20 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; it's the most popular and one of the most beautiful dogwood trees. Flowering dogwood is a small deciduous tree that blooms with white, pink, or red flowers in early spring; it is the state flower 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.


    Do not eat the fruit of this plant, as it is considered mildly toxic.

    • Native Area: Eastern North America, Southeastern Canada, Eastern Mexico
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Height: 15 to 25 feet tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    Continue to 5 of 12 below.
  • 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 another popular variety. This small dogwood tree variety is deciduous or a 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: 20 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 (a member of the Swida subspecies) is a deciduous shrub that forms thickets as the underground rhizomes spread. White flowers appear in late spring, leading to white berries in summer, which are edible to birds. 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: Central and Eastern North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Height: 10 to 27 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 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 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 (for most cultivars)
    • Height: Typically 30 to 40 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Best in part shade
  • 08 of 12

    Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

    Pagoda dogwood


    izzzy71 / Getty Images

    The common name for this plant will help you identify it. Also known as alternate-leaf dogwood, this plant is one of very few dogwood tree leaves that are 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
    Continue to 9 of 12 below.
  • 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 with stems that start turning red at the end of summer or the 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 colors 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 9 feet (approximate)
    • 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) is a large shrub or small tree. The fruits on this dogwood 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: East Central and the southeastern U.S.
    • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 10
    • Height: 10 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: 2 to 9 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 a dwarf size, variegated leaf color, or unusual bark or stem color.

When growing 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.


Avoid over-fertilizing your dogwood plants—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.

  • Where do dogwood trees grow best?

    Dogwoods are among the best trees and shrubs for providing year-round interest, but they perform their best when planted in moist, fertile soil and in a location with dappled light.

  • Are dogwood trees messy?

    Dogwood trees that drop fruit to the ground can be considered a little messy. For example, the beautiful kousa dogwood tree is a bit high-maintenance thanks to the necessary clean-up of its falling fruits.

  • Is a dogwood a good yard tree?

    The delicate flowers, seasonal appeal, and low-maintenance dogwood tree can offer curb appeal and beauty to your yard.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Nonpoisonous Berries. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

  3. Cornus Canadensis (Bunchberry, Canadian Bunchberry, Canadian Dwarf Cornel, Dwarf Dogwood). North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox.

  4. Popescu, I., et al. Cornus Sanguinea in Europe: Distribution, Habitat, Usage and Threats. European Atlas of Forest Tree Species.

  5. Cornus Mas. North Carolina State Extension.

  6. Species: Cornus Florida. U.S. Department of Agriculture Fire Effects Information System.

  7. Anthracnose Diseases of Dogwood. University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Research and Extension.

  8. Dogwood - Cornus spp. Family Cornaceae (Dogwood Family). University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.

  9. Dogwood Diseases and Insect Pests. Clemson University Cooperative Extension.