'Wolf Eyes' Dogwood Plant Profile

A Unique Variegated Form of Dogwood

Wolf Eyes dogwood has bright sepals and leaves. The foliage is variegated.
David Beaulieu

'Wolf Eyes' is a particularly popular cultivar of the Chinese dogwood (Cornus kousa). Like the species plant, which is native to China, Korea, and Japan, 'Wolf Eyes' is a multi-stemmed large shrub or small tree with white flowers that appear for up to six weeks in late spring. The form of Chinese dogwood is spreading, with multiple branches tracing a somewhat horizontal pattern. The fall foliage ranges from orange to a mohogany red.

The 'Wolf Eyes' cultivar also adds a creamy white edging to the light green foliage, and it is a smaller cultivar than the pure species, topping out at 15 feet rather than the 30-foot stature sometimes seen in C. kousa.

Older trees often develop a mottled bark (which also peels), lending this specimen further visual interest. The rounded berry that succeeds the flowers starts yellowish-green; it is surrounded by the white bracts. This is perhaps the origin of the cultivar name—the berries being the pupils of the wolf's eyes, the bracts being the whites of the eyes. The ripened berry is raspberry-like in appearance, bearing a red color.

'Wolf Eyes' has a fairly slow growth rate and can take five years or more to reach its full size when planted from a typical potted or balled-and-burlap nursery specimen. A growth of 12 to 24 inches per year is typical. Spring is the best planting time for Chinese dogwood. 'Wolf Eyes' can be expected to live for about 40 years.

Botanical Name Cornus kousa 'Wolf Eyes'
Common Name 'Wolf Eyes' dogwood, 'Wolf Eyes' Chinese dogwood
Plant Type Flowering deciduous tree
Mature Size 15 feet tall; similar spread
Sun Exposure Full sun to part shade
Soil Type Rich, humusy, well-drained soil
Soil pH 5.5 to 7.0 (slightly acidic to neutral)
Bloom Time May to June
Flower Color Pinkish white
Hardiness Zones 5 to 8 (USDA)
Native Area Japan, China, Korea

How to Grow 'Wolf Eyes' Dogwood

'Wolf Eyes' is a fairly slow-growing plant, so make sure to anticipate its mature size and give it the proper spacing when planting it. It will do well in just about any well-draining soil, provided it is not too alkaline.

Provide 'Wolf Eyes' dogwood trees with sufficient water during hot spells. While its leaf margins are supposed to be wavy, the leaves on some trees curl excessively during their second summer (perhaps because the water needs are more than the developing roots can yet provide). In cases of extreme drought, Kousa dogwood leaves will turn brown along their margins, but the plant recovers well if it is kept watered.

This plant begins as a shrubby specimen with many vertical leaders, but as it matures, 'Wolf Eyes' begins to favor a central trunk with main branches that spread out into an attractive canopy. You can assist this transformation with careful pruning.


'Wolf Eyes', like other Chinese dogwoods, does best in part-sun location, consistent with its natural preference for forested understory locations. It can tolerate a full sun location, but you should be ready for leaf curling to occur. Full sun locations will require you to water more frequently.


Plant Cornus kousa in well-drained soil, amending it with organic material, if necessary. 'Wolf Eyes' prefers a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH, but it will also tolerate slightly alkaline soil.


Give dogwoods consistent, regular moisture. About 1 inch of moisture per week, in the form of rainfall and/or irrigation, should be sufficient. These are plants that want the soil moisture level to be just right—not too dry, not too soggy. This is especially true in the first three years, as the plant's root system is becoming established. A circular bed of mulch or another organic material spread over the root zone will help preserve soil moisture in dry conditions. Once established, 'Wolf Eyes' can tolerate a full week or two without watering, but make sure to avoid prolonged drought.

Temperature and Humidity

'Wolf Eyes' dogwood is hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8 and will survive winter temperatures down to about minus-20 degrees Fahrenheit. It tolerates most air humidity levels, provided soil moisture is kept fairly consistent.


Don't fertilize a dogwood in its first year of growth. In subsequent years, you can feed it with a slow-release granular fertilizer worked into the soil beneath the leaf canopy, then give it a second similar feeding about six weeks later.


To take best advantage of the attractive mottling bark, you may want to prune 'Wolf Eyes' to expose the larger lower branches. This feature will be more visible if you train the plant as a small tree by pruning away competing leaders in favor of a single spreading trunk. This can be started in the third year of growth.

Propagating 'Wolf Eyes' Dogwood

Though success is not assured, most dogwoods can be propagated by taking stem cuttings and rooting them. Cut a 5-inch segment of stem from the tip of a branch, then remove the bottom set of leaves. Sever the remaining leaves in half, but leave them on the cutting.

Dip the snipped end of the cutting in rooting hormone, then plant it in a small pot filled with seed-starter mix or potting soil. Cover the container with a loose plastic bag and set it in a warm, bright location.

Keep the potting mix damp and inspect the cutting regularly. When roots have developed (offering resistance when you tug on the stem), uncover the pot and place it in a sunny location. Keep the soil moist, and feed the new plant with a half-strength liquid fertilizer once a month. Continue growing the plant, repotting it as needed, until you are ready to plant it in the landscape.

'Wolf Eyes' vs. Flowering Dogwood

'Wolf Eyes' and other Chinese dogwood cultivars are most often compared to Cornus florida, the flowering dogwood. Though the trees have similar landscape uses, 'Wolf Eyes' is a superior plant in some ways. In addition to the variegated foliage and smaller, more manageable growth habit, 'Wolf Eyes', like other Chinese dogwoods, has better cold hardiness and better resistance to disease. It also has more tolerance for alkaline soil than does flowering dogwood. Finally, the fall foliage of 'Wolf Eyes' is, by some accounts, more interesting than that of flowering dogwood.

Common Pests/ Diseases

'Wolf Eyes', like other Chinese dogwoods, has better resistance to dogwood anthracnose, a devastating disease that afflicts other dogwood species in some regions.

'Wolf Eyes' sometimes experiences leaf scorch if planted in a full-sun location and not watered adequately.

Yellowing leaves (chlorosis) is sometimes a sign that soil is too alkaline. In this case, feeding with an acidifying fertilizer may help.

Landscape Uses

Like all varieties of Cornus kousa, 'Wolf Eyes' blooms later in the spring than does flowering dogwood (Cornus florida)—an important factor to consider if you are trying to stagger bloom periods in your yard to improve year-round interest.

A slow-growing tree that stays compact, 'Wolf Eyes' is a better choice than most trees for planting in foundation beds. Since it stays short, you can use Wolf Eyes Cornus kousa as the understory element in a loose privacy screen of trees and shrubs on a border. Its variegated leaves also make this Chinese dogwood a legitimate specimen tree.

Chinese dogwoods are good trees for attracting birds, as wild birds will eat the berries.