Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Wildflower Wednesday: Dogwood, not just a pretty flower face

It's Wildflower Wednesday and that's when I showcase my favorite wildflowers, but, today, I want to talk about my favorite flowering dogwood, Cornus florida. It plays a major supportive role in my wildflower garden all year long, as well as being a lovely Spring showoff!
Flowering dogwood is the most popular understory tree in my part of the gardening world! I have several in my front garden and my favorite grows in the shade of a Bur oak and Shagbark hickories. It has the most appealing and graceful tiered and horizontal branching and the lower limbs tickle the Golden ragwort and Mayapples growing beneath it.
I love how the lower branches brush the woodland floor
It's that graceful look that most of us want from our dogwood trees and can only get it if we leave those lower branches alone. Too often they're sited in the middle of the lawn and all the lower branches are removed for easy mowing. Leave those branches alone and let them drape across the lawn.

No scratch that! The tree would be happier to not be in the middle of a lawn. Instead, plant them in the shade of a taller canopy tree to give them the dappled light they prefer; let those lower limbs alone; smother the lawn with newspapers covered with decomposing leaves (or pinestraw). Then plant spring ephemerals and other shade loving wildflowers.
 Voila, you have a woodland wildflower garden. All from one understory tree!

Understory trees like Cornus florida  have excellent ecological value.

  • they provide for pollinators (bees, flies, butterflies and beetles)
  • the fall drupes feed birds (Tufted Titmouse, cardinals, robins, Eastern bluebird, Mockingbird and woodpeckers) and mammals (raccoons, white-footed mouse, chipmunks, squirrels)
  • they shade and protect spring ephemerals
  • they provide shelter/cover for birds year round
  • they provide structure to the garden
  • they help create a healthy and diverse ecosystem
  • they're pleasing to humans
A flowering tree that provides shade for wildflowers, and cover and food for critters is certainly way more than a pretty flower face.



Commonly known as a flowering dogwood
Cornaceae family
Eastern North America from Massachusetts to Ontario and Michigan, south to eastern Texas and Mexico, and east to central Florida. 
Zone: 5 to 9
Understory tree 15.00 to 30.00 feet by 15.00 to 30.00 feet
April to May bloom
It does best with partial shade in the south and full sun in the north. 
Moist well drained soil
Showy spring flowering bracts that attract insects and butterflies
Good Fall leaf color with showy red fruits/drupes that attract birds
Winter interest~tiered branches and attractive bark
Year round shelter for birds
Can tolerate clay soil and deer do not browse mine

Disease Issues: Might be subject to anthracnose disease if grown with high humidity, poor air circulation, and heavy shade. Middle and West Tennessee tend to be warmer and drier and are less affected by dogwood anthracnose than the Eastern half of the state.

Welcome to Clay and Limestone's Wildflower Wednesday celebration. WW is about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Please add your url to Mr Linky and leave a comment.

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. I can see the appeal, and the foliage after the blooms aren't too bad either :)

  2. I am redoing my white garden that sits under an almost 100 foot white ash....it gets sun and shade and this tree is just what I am looking for...I will definitely add this one....what a perfectly beautiful native tree for the gardener and the wildlife. Thanks Gail!

  3. I love to see wooded areas with these glorious dots of white scattered through out. They call to me to come walk the wood so to see more blooming spring ephemerals.

  4. They are very beautiful. Why don't I have any......

  5. I love dogwoods, but I also love the photo of all the spring wildflowers underneath it--just beautiful! Maybe next month I'll get back into joining you for WW, but after being gone for 10 days, I have too much to do in the garden to spend much time blogging. Saw some very interesting wildflowers in Texas, but didn't get any photos because I was usually walking the dog at the time. So many pretties this time of year everywhere you go!

  6. Aaah, lovely. Thank you for highlighting this lovely tree.~~Dee

  7. Sigh, we are at the northern limit of hardiness for Cornus florida. I would love to find a northern grown source for this tree, because otherwise the typical garden center nursery stock doesn't make it through the winter.

  8. I miss seeing dogwood blooms in the woods, so lacy and pretty in the spring. Yours fits so well in the garden.

  9. Oh dear! Yes, of course your description of the Dogwood with all the other lovelies is perfection! What a wonderful time of year!

  10. Wonderful to live in a place where Flowering Dogwood survives!

  11. I love dogwoods and have a pretty one planted in my garden. It's just about to be in full bloom. But today I wrote about my Carolina Silverbell for Wildflower Wednesday.

  12. Hi Gail, I love the way you describe your plants and their benefits. You are so positive and upbeat, even while suggesting folks rip up their beloved lawns. ;-) I love it! I wish we had room for trees, but alas, our lot is oddly shaped, and there is not a good place for a tree with all the rules about how far it has to be from different things like where a sidewalk would be. I am thankful for the variety of trees in our neighborhood, though.

  13. This is a great post about dogwoods and your photos show what a great tree it is in any yard.

  14. Once again, I am regretting my decision to grow a Kousa dogwood instead of the traditional one! I don't have much shade here, so I don't think I could grow one anyway, but boy are they pretty. I especially like the pink ones. My strong and healthy Kousa often disappoints me, but I don't have the heart to replace it. I guess I'll just enjoy yours instead.

  15. Your shade garden is lovely. It's what I wish mine could look like. I can't grow Cornus florida here, it's just too cold and they winterkill. I can grow pagoda dogwood but they are more shrub like and short lived. Great post!

  16. I will be looking out for my own version of delicate white flowers and something for the birds.

  17. I agree, I think dogwoods look best with some shade so they get that graceful, layered look.


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson