Flowering Dogwood

Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
Cornus florida, commonly known as the flowering dogwood, is a beautiful tree located along the perimeter of the interior of the Grove Street Cemetery. Given its location right at the entrance and the bench placed under its relatively expanisve canopy, this tree welcomes visitors to the green space. In the late spring and early summer, its delicate white flowers offer some shade for those who choose to take a seat. Although it is not the tallest tree, its height is quite noticeable - the tree can be seen from the street, despite the brick walls surrounding the cemetery. As a decorative tree with many different appearances throughout the four seasons of New England, this particular tree is a wonderful attraction that everyone should stop to see on the Nature Walk!
Rachel Arnesen, Angela Pollard, Anabel Starosta
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Date of tree entry: 
9.80 m
Diameter at breast height: 
0.37 m

One can tell that this tree is mature and nearly (if not completely) fully grown simply based on its bark. When a flowering dogwood is young, its bark is light gray and smooth. Over the years, the bark darkens in color and develops a patch or block pattern. This particular tree also has chunks of bark missing or loosely attached, likely due to some of the harsh weather it has endured over the past few months.
Twigs & branches
As you can see from these pictures, the twigs of the flowering dogwood are relatively slender and have a web-like orientation. On any given branch, there are many twigs and each has several bud locations. As a result, when this tree does bloom it will be fairly densely packed with blossoms.
The leaves of this tree have ovate shape and a simple morphology. The leaves are in an opposite orientation and have veins that curve out to the edge of the leaf from its midrib (the central vein of the leaf, connected to its petiole). Leaves are usually approximately 5 inches long and 2 1/2 inches wide. The top of the leaf is green with a lighter/paler green underneath. The leaves are broad and flat, with a simple design. They are not lobed and appear to have smooth margins (though if you examine the leaf under a microscope, you can see that it is actually finely toothed). The leaves of the flowering dogwood turn a bright red in the fall.
Reproductive Structures
The actual, true flowers of the flowering dogwood are yellowish-green and tiny, compressed into clusters that ressemble buttons. These button-like clusters are surrounded by four white brachts (petal-like structures). As many as 20 flowers can be contained between one set of 4 bracts. In the spring, these brachts open, giving the impression that the tree is covered in lots of single, 3-4" diameter white flowers. The blooming season is April-May. During the fall, these white bracts turn a deep reddish-purple color and the red fruit of the tree matures. The flower of the Cornus florida is the official state flower of North Carolina and Virginia. While the brachts are typically white, humans have bred certain selections that bloom in pink or even red colors. White is the usual color found in wild flowering dogwoods, however. The flowers are both conspicuous and fragrant, attracting pollinating insects.
The fruit of the dogwood is small in size and shaped like an oblong sphere. Each fruit grows up to approximately 1/2 inch long and is typically red in color. The fruit tends to ripen in the early fall (September and October), at which point it is either eaten by birds or falls to the ground where it is eaten by other animals. As a drupe fruit, dogwood fruits have two hard, pit-like (ellipsoid) seeds that are surrounded by a fleshy covering and encased in a thin skin. Although birds enjoy these fruits, they are very poisonous to humans. Some of the animals that eat the fruit of the dogwood are: northern cardinal, eastern bluebird, dark-eyed junco, tufted titmouse, American robin, northern bobwhite, wild turkey, tree swallow, raccoon, red fox, eastern chipmunk, American crow, woodpecker, common grackle, common starling, squirrel, beaver, striped skunk, white-footed mouse, rabbit, and white-tailed deer. The drupe is high in calcium and fat, making it an attractive option for many species to eat.
  • Winter
  • Spring
  • Summer
  • Fall
Natural range of distribution: 
As the above map shows in green, flowering dogwoods are prominently found on the east coast of the United States. Naturally, they live in deciduous or coniferous forests; however, they are quite popular as a decorative plant and thus have been incorporated into landscape designs all across the country. Aside from forests and cultivated lawns, these trees can live in floodplains, bluffs, ravines, and swamps.
Origin, history, and uses: 

The flowering dogwood’s common name is derived from the Old English word ‘dagwood,’ since its hard wood was used to make daggers. The fruit for the flowering dogwood is poisonous to humans, so humans have interacted with the flowering dogwood in limited amounts. However, its bark was used by Native Americans as a fever reducer and pain reliever. Today, it is largely used by humans as an ornamental tree, but can also help improve soil. The flowering dogwood’s leaves decompose more rapidly than those of other species, allowing it to help improve soil conditions effectively. As a result, it is sometimes planted in urban forestry projects. The tree’s wood is also used to manufacture farming tools since the wood is very strong and shock resistant. 

The phenology of a particular plant is the tracking of its development through the seasons. One can observe phenophases for the leaves, flowers, and fruits of a flowering dogwood. Leaf Phenophases: - Breaking leaf buds (when the green tip of the leaf is just barely visible) - Unfolding of leaves as they emerge from the bud - Growing leaf size (maximum length and width of 15 cm by 7 cm) - Color change (green in the spring/summer to red/purple in the fall) - Falling of the leaves Flower Phenophases: - Breaking flower buds (usually occurs before the leaf budding) - Opening of flowers Fruit Phenophases: - Ripening from green to bright red - Dropping of fruit to the ground/consumption by birds

“Plant Profile for Cornus florida.” National Resources Conservation Service, USDA, 2016. http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=cofl2

“Plant Guide for Cornus florida.” National Resources Conservation Service, USDA, 2016. http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/pg_cofl2.pdf

“White Dogwood: Cornus florida.” Arbor Day Foundation, 2016. https://www.arborday.org/trees/treeguide/TreeDetail.cfm?ItemID=835

“Cornus florida.” Nature’s Notebook. USA National Phenology Network, 2016. https://www.usanpn.org/nn/Cornus_florida

“Flowering Dogwood.” Fairfax County Public Schools, 2014. http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/flowering_dogwood.htm

“Cornus florida.” Missouri Botanical Garden, 2014. http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.as…

“Cornus florida (Flowering Dogwood).” Lady Bird Johnson Wild Flower Center, University of Texas at Austin. http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=COFL2

Media and Arts

A Poem about the flowering dogwood:

From root to flower, in gardens this tree is often seen

Leaves change color from purple to red to green

Opposite in orientation and oval in form

White and pink flowers are seen when it’s warm

Each flower has four brachts, producing a fruit

Ripening ovary becomes a red drupe

If you’re a bird, enjoy, but humans, beware!

Native to the eastern United States, including Delaware

Growing 15 to 30 feet tall, experts say

Dogwood blooms from April to May

Opening its buds up toward the sun

Going to visit our tree is so much fun!

Wind does not pollinate it, but bees and butterflies do

One can see by its bark its age that is true

Oh, Cornus florida, what a beautiful tree

Dogwood, dogwood, you are so lovely to see