Like flashes of white lace peeking out from the forest understory, flowering dogwoods are a familiar springtime sight throughout the southeastern United States. Dogwoods are found growing naturally in the wild and are widely available for sale through gardening centers. Long prized for their showy flowers, dogwoods are a favorite choice for landscaping. Although there are numerous varieties, dogwoods are not really difficult to identify.
A member of the family Cornacia and the genus Cornus, the dogwood is a deciduous woody tree or shrub native to both North America and Asia. The dogwood is known for its beautiful white, pink or red flowers in springtime. Cornus florida, or flowering dogwood, is one of the most common species found in hardwood forests throughout the southeastern United States. According to the Virginia Department of Forestry, the flowering dogwood is a relatively small tree, growing to about 20 to 30 feet tall with a trunk diameter of about 6 to 8 inches.
Type of Leaf
The first clue in leaf identification is determining the type of leaf. The dogwood is a deciduous broadleaf tree, meaning it loses its leaves in the winter. It is considered a "broadleaf" because its leaves are flat and thin as opposed to a fir or spruce, which bear evergreen needles.
Dogwood leaf arrangement is considered "opposite" because leaves are attached in pairs on opposite sides of the stem. The dogwood has a "simple leaf," meaning one undivided blade grows directly out of a stalk.
Shape of Leaf
Although there are many species of dogwoods, the leaves are all similar. The dogwood leaf is about 3 to 5 inches long, ovate (wider at the base than tip) and somewhat pointed in shape, with smooth or wavy edges. The leaf has a center vein with curved veins that run parallel to the leaf edges. It does not have lobes like an oak leaf nor are the edges serrated or saw-toothed.
Dogwood leaves are green in the spring and summer with a silver-green underside. In the fall, dogwoods leaves turn a brilliant crimson, red-yellow or red-purple.
Flowers and Bracts
Flowers and bracts (a type of leaf) appear in mid-spring. The flowers are small, tight greenish yellow clusters surrounded by four petal-like bracts which many people mistake for flower petals. The bracts are usually white (sometimes pink or red) and about 2 inches in diameter with a characteristic notch or indentation at the end of the bract.
In the fall, dogwood trees bear clusters of bright red berries which are prized by wild birds and squirrels alike.