In 1912, the Japanese government presented the flowering cherry tree to the United States as a gift of friendship. The cherry tree, a harbinger of spring in Japan, is also considered a national treasure by that country. A few years later, the United States gave the Japanese the dogwood tree, an early flowering tree that symbolizes the coming of spring in this country.
Ornamental cherry trees (Prunus species) are similar to the cherry trees grown for fruit production. However, they are grown more for their showy, delicate white or pink blossoms that open for a short period only in the early spring.
The flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) also bloom quite early, sometimes even in the late spring. Rather than produce actual flowers, the dogwood instead produce bracts, or leaves that have a petal shape. These bracts can be white, yellow or pink.
Flowering cherry trees are not very large trees. In fact, they will only reach 15 to 25 feet tall to a similar spread. Height will vary from cultivar to cultivar. Some grow upright while others grow into a weeping shape.
The flowering dogwood is generally taller than the flowering cherry tree, with the largest cultivars reaching up to 40 feet tall, if grown in the shade. If grown in full sunlight, the dogwood will only reach 15 to 20 feet. Both trees are relatively slow growers, gaining about a foot a year.
Flowering cherry trees need full sunlight to thrive, as well as moist soil that is well drained and well aerated. They require no pruning at all, unless you need to remove dead or diseased limbs.
Dogwoods also like moist, well-drained soil, especially soil that is on the acidic side. The dogwood can tolerate full sun, but it prefers partial shade, especially in the afternoon. The dogwood needs a place that has good air circulation and requires deep irrigation for dry spells.
Though beautiful, flowering cherry trees can be difficult to maintain since they are susceptible to a whole host of problems. Numerous diseases are common to the cherry tree, from root rot to powdery mildew to canker to blight. Numerous insects such as tent caterpillars and aphids also often infest flowering cherries.
Dogwood trees also have their fair share of problems. The dogwood borer will attack newly planted and weakened trees, while dogwood anthracnose, a relatively new disease, has killed numerous trees in the Northeast.
David Harris is a writer living in Portland, Ore. He currently is the editor-in-chief of the online magazine Spectrum Culture. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College.