At a glance

Gardening Australia - - PLANTS IN FOCUS -

com­mon name dog­wood botanic name Cor­nus spp. plant type Ever­green, semiev­er­green or de­cid­u­ous trees and shrubs

3–9m

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

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