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What is a White Dogwood?

M.C. Huguelet
M.C. Huguelet

A white dogwood is a flowering tree indigenous to North America. Also known by its scientific name, Cornus florida, this tree is beloved by many for its multitude of snowy white springtime blossoms, its attractive red fruit, and its handsome reddish-brown fall foliage. With basic care, it is capable of thriving in a range of environments and is thus commonly seen in home gardens, public parks, and corporate landscaping.

The white dogwood is native to moderately temperate regions of North America, particularly the eastern states of the US. Historical records suggest that the tree has been cultivated since the early 18th century, and that it was grown on the land of both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. As it can tolerate many types of soils, the white dogwood has been successfully transplanted to temperate areas as far west as California.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

In most cases, the white dogwood is cultivated for its striking appearance. A mature dogwood typically reaches a height of about 15 to 25 feet (4.57 to 7.62 meters). The growth of its branches is largely horizontal, and it is not uncommon for the spread of a mature tree’s branches to be equal to or even greater than its height.

Perhaps the favorite feature of the white dogwood is its abundance of snowy white blossoms, which appear each year in late spring. Contrary to popular belief, however, these white “petals” are not flowers but modified leaves, or bracts, which grow in groups of four around a central cluster of the tree’s true flowers. These true flowers are quite small, with each petal measuring approximately 0.16 inches (4 millimeters) in length. They are usually yellow or yellow-green in color.

The white dogwood’s leaves are roughly oval in shape, with pointed ends, and range from 2 to 5 inches (about 5.08 to 12.7 centimeters) in length. When they first appear, they are bright green in hue. As fall approaches, they turn a deep reddish-brown.

Another visual feature of the white dogwood is its fruit, which matures in the fall. This fruit consists of small, bright red berries which grow in clusters. It attracts many birds and small mammals, such as squirrels, which collect the berries as a food source.

Along with its physical beauty, the white dogwood is also relatively easy to care for, typically requiring only partial shade and watering during hot months. The tree is thus commonly found in home gardens. It is also a popular choice for public parks and corporate landscaping.

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    • Woman with a flower
      Woman with a flower