At a glance
common name dogwood botanic name Cornus spp. plant type Evergreen, semievergreen or deciduous trees and shrubs
3–9m year round suitable
sun/ semi-shade spring to summer
Adogwood in flower is a beautiful sight, its branches laden with white, pink or yellow flowers. Enjoy the sight, but don’t hanker after one for your own garden unless you live in a cool or mountain climate. Dogwoods thrive in woodlands in cooler parts of the US, Asia (especially China and Japan) and Europe, preferring mild summers and soils that are rich, slightly acidic, cool, moist and well drained. They delight with a long flower show.
So, here's the question: if dogwoods are such beautiful trees, why do they have the common name of dogwood? Putting man’s best friend aside, the word ‘dog’ is often used in plant names to describe a plant that is inferior or even smelly, which doesn't seem appropriate here.
Stories abound, and most refer to the tree’s dense wood. One says the strong wood was used to make ‘dogs’, which are a type of meat skewer, while another says the wood was crafted into ‘dags’ or ‘dagga’, which are Celtic names for a sharp wooden tool. The genus name Cornus also refers to the strength of its wood. Strangely, there is a reference to the use of dogwood bark as a treatment for mange in dogs. Sadly for the mangy dog, dogwood bark appears to have little medicinal value.
Whatever the origin of the name, there are about 40 species, and several of these are very beautiful garden trees. In our cool-climate garden in North West Tasmania we have two species, and hanker for more.
Here, the Chinese dogwood (Cornus kousa) is bare through winter, but in early summer