Flowering Dogwood

Cornus florida

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Illustration of flowering dogwood leaves, flowers, fruits.
Flowering dogwood, Cornus florida.
Paul Nelson
Family

Cornaceae (dogwoods)

Description

Flowering dogwood is a beautiful shrub to small tree with a straggling, spreading crown.

Leaves are opposite, simple, egg-shaped, 3–5 inches long, dark green, with slightly wavy edges.

Bark is dark gray to brown with thin, squarish plates.

Twigs are flexible, slender, reddish-gray to purplish, or greenish with red dots, hairy, with flower buds terminal. Leaf buds are compressed and oval.

Flowers are small, in inflorescences (flower clusters) of 25–30, surrounded by 4 large, white (sometimes pink) petal-like bracts, and appear in early spring before the leaves. Bracts are 1¼–2½ inches long and are notched at the tip.

Fruits are scarlet, egg-shaped berries (drupes), ½ inch long, in clusters of 2–6, appearing August–November.

Similar species: Missouri has 5 species in the genus Cornus. Flowering dogwood is identified by its combination of opposite leaves, dense flowerheads with 4 showy bracts, and oval red fruits.

Size

At maturity, to 40 feet tall; to 35 feet wide.

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flowering dogwood tree
Flowering Dogwood Tree

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Photo of flowering dogwood autumn branches, leaves, fruit.
Flowering Dogwood In Fall
We enjoy the fall leaf color and red berries of flowering dogwood, as well as its springtime flowers.

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flowering dogwood flower
Flowering Dogwood Flower
Habitat and conservation

Found along wooded slopes, ravines, along bluffs, upland ridges, and successional fields; less common on glades, valleys, and low ground; prefers well-drained, acid-based soils and shady locations.

image of Flowering Dogwood distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Mostly in the Ozarks, but also present north of the Missouri River, particularly in the eastern half of the state.

Status

Common, especially in the Ozarks. Missouri’s official state tree; it presents lovely boughs of white inflorescences in our springtime forests.

Human connections

Flowering dogwood and its many cultivars are favorite small, spring-flowering trees for landscaping. Historically, the plant has been used to make inks and dyes as well as medicine. The wood has been used for golf club heads and even skewers for cooking.

Flowering dogwood and other blooming understory trees such as redbud beautify our woodlands in spring, lifting our hearts and inspiring tourism.

You know you are progressing in your study of botany when you can see that the structures that look like petals in dogwood are not petals at all, and that they instead are petal-like modified leaves called bracts that are arranged beneath a cluster of rather inconspicuous flowers.

Ecosystem connections

The fruits are eaten by squirrels and white-tailed deer and are a preferred food for wild turkey and at least 28 other species of birds, including quail. As an understory and forest border tree, dogwood provides cover for many mammals and birds.