This is the time of the year when Cornus kousa, or the Kousa Dogwood, is in full flower. This is a spectacularly beautiful tree that is loved and used often. But there are several other species of the genus Cornus, or dogwood, that are equally deserving of space in the garden.
My favorite is Cornus controversa, or the Giant Dogwood. This species has the familiar dogwood foliage and, in many ways, looks very similar to the native species, Cornus florida. The Giant Dogwood can grow to 50 feet with a spread of 20 to 25 feet and does so with a vigor that is seldom seen in this genus. Native to Asia, this tree is hardy to zone 5 and is resistant to many of the disease issues that affect its native cousin. It prefers moisture but can tolerate some drought, although in our sandy soils I recommend irrigation. The flowers of this species are small and don’t have the large white bracts that Cornus florida and Cornus kousa are so well-known for. But they are borne early in the season and can be quite attractive. I’ve used this species near a patio or terrace, and it can be the perfect size tree for a small garden because it forms a nice canopy but doesn’t grow as large as most shade trees. There is a beautiful variegated cultivar Variegata, which, as the name suggests, has variegated foliage. June Snow is another cultivar that is well-known in the trade. The foliage on this species is arranged oppositely on the stems and is typical dogwood foliage and develops beautiful fall color.
A close relative of Cornus controversa is Cornus alternifolia or the Pagoda Dogwood. This species is somewhat smaller in stature than Cornus controversa but is an equally beautiful specimen for a smaller garden. The species was named for its very slightly alternately arranged foliage, although it can be difficult to determine that they’re actually alternately arranged. The Pagoda Dogwood is slower in growth and ultimately smaller in stature than the Giant Dogwood, growing to 20 to 25 feet tall with a similar spread. There is a beautiful variegated cultivar, Golden Shadows, that has a nice yellow variegated foliage. Native to the US, Cornus alternifolia is quite hardy, to zone 3 and also enjoys moist soils but can tolerate moderate drought.
The last of the dogwoods that I want to mention is Cornus mas, or the Cornelian cherry Dogwood (yes, that’s the correct spelling). Growing to 25 feet tall with a spread of 20 feet, this small tree is perfect for a small garden space. It has a refined appearance that lends elegance to any space. It produces flowers in early spring that are small and yellow. It also produces a small red fruits later in the summer that, like Cornus kousa, are edible. Most use it for making jellies, and it can be eaten without preserving but you’d probably have to be hungry because the fruit are quite bitter.
The new McGraw Family Garden of the Senses has five beautiful Cornus mas in a beautiful new garden.
All three of these species I discussed can be found at Heritage Museums & Gardens.