The American or Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is native to eastern North America and northern Mexico. The small deciduous tree is famous for its beautiful white bracts (petals around flowers) and interesting bark structure. When in the wild they can typically be found at the forest edge. They bloom in late April or May. While most of the wild trees have flowers with white bracts, cultivars also have flowers with pink or almost red bracts. The twigs are slender and sometimes greenish to light brown, but frequently purplish and upturned at the tip. The leaves of the flowing dogwood are opposite and ovate turning red-brown in fall. The bark is light gray and smooth when the tree is young. As it grows, the bark becomes grayish brown and develops a distinctive blocky pattern that looks like alligator skin. Cornus means “tough (referring to the wood) in Latin and is the Latin name for C. mas. It is called “dogwood” because the stiff branches of C. sanguinea were used as dags (daggers) or skewers.
Common name: Flowering dogwood, Cornel Boxwood
Scientific Name (family and order): Cornus florida L. (Cornaceae, Cornales)
Species Origin: East North America
New Jersey Status: USDA Native
Habit: Broadly spreading small tree, 40’ tall. Perennial.
Habitat: Zone 5 -8.
Trunk/Stem: Bark red-brown to blackish, deeply cracked into small square plates.
Leaves: Deciduous, Simple, Opposite. Ovate to elliptical, 4” long and 2 ½” wide, apex tapered (abruptly acuminate); base broad cuneate to rounded; , margin entire, blade dark green, glabrous and smooth above; whitish and softly hairy beneath over veins; turning red in autumn. 6 – 7 vein pair per blade, veins pinnate curving to follow margin; petiole ¼ – ¾” long.
Flowers: Perfect. Flowers small, greenish, numerous in dense hemispherical cluster, usually borne at end of stem, each cluster short stalked cyme (or umbel) surrounded by four white to deep pink bracts, each bract notched at the tip (notch occurs at point where bracts were once attached). Flowers in umbel-like inflorescence; 4 sepals tiny, 4 petals 4 – 6 mm; ovary inferior. Flower bracts open in late spring before leaves.
Fruits and seeds: Small (1/3 – ½” wide) glossy red drupe in cluster, separating when ripe.
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