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Flowering dogwood

Flowering dogwood in full flower.

Flowering dogwood is a small to medium woodland understory tree, native throughout most of the eastern United States. Showy white, red or pink flowering bracts appear before the leaves in early spring. Dark green summer foliage turns a brilliant reddish purple in fall.  It is sensitive to adverse soil and environmental conditions such as road salt and pollution. Best planted in acidic soil.

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.


Botanical name:

Cornus florida

All common names:

Flowering dogwood

Family (English):


Family (Botanic):


Planting Site:

  • Residential and parks

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Tree


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Chicago area,
  • Illinois,
  • North America

Landscape Uses:

  • Massing,
  • Mixed border,
  • Patio/sidewalk,
  • Specimen,
  • Utility

Size Range:

  • medium tree (25-40 feet),
  • Small tree (15-25 feet)

Mature Height:

20-40 feet

Mature Width:

20 feet

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily),
  • Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8,
  • Zone 9

Soil Preference:

  • Acid soil,
  • Moist, well-drained soil

Acid Soils:

  • Requires

Alkaline Soils:

  • Intolerant

Salt Spray:

  • Intolerant

Soil Salt:

  • Intolerant

Drought Conditions:

  • Intolerant

Poor Drainage:

  • Intolerant

Planting Considerations:

  • Intolerant of pollution

Ornamental Interest:

  • Spring blossoms,
  • Fall color,
  • Showy fruit,
  • Showy flowers,
  • Attractive bark

Seasons of Interest:

  • mid spring,
  • late spring,
  • late summer,
  • early fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Pink,
  • Red,
  • White

Shape or Form:

  • Broad,
  • Round

Growth Rate:

  • Slow

Transplants Well:

  • No


  • Game birds,
  • Insect pollinators,
  • Small mammals,
  • Songbirds

More Information:

Tree & Plant Care

Tends to develop problems in heavy clay soil.
Prefers acid soil and  gets chlorotic symptoms (pale green leaves) in high pH soils.
Shallow root system benefits with a few inches of mulch to moderate soil temperature.  
It is also beneficial to shelter the plant from wind.
Considered borderline hardy in the Chicago area.
Flowers on old wood so harsh winters can damage flower buds.

Disease, pests and problems

Poorly drained soils, wind, salt, drought stress  predispose plant to insect and disease problems.
Borers and cankers are possible problems.
Anthracnose (Discula) is a very serious problem is some parts of the United States.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Tolerant of black walnut toxicity

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 9
Native to much of the eastern United States.
Common in wooded areas.

Bark color and texture 

Mature bark is gray-brown and blocky and when shed it reveals a dark inner bark.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Opposite, simple, rounded  leaves with a pointed tip. Pale green with wavy leaf margins. Veins grow toward tip of leaf without running to the edge.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Flowers appear large because of the 4 white bracts. True flowers are clustered in center of bracts.
Flower buds are a small button-like bud at the tips of branches. Leaf buds are flattened and reddish color.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Clusters of bright red fruit  ripen in July- August. 

Cultivars and their differences

  Some cultivars may be difficult to find in the nursery trade.

Cherokee Chief flowering dogwood (Cornus florida 'Cherokee Chief'): Upright rounded habit, 20 feet high and wide; rose red to ruby red flowers

Cloud 9 flowering dogwood (Cornus florida 'Cloud 9'): Broadly rounded, 15 feet high and 20 feet wide; white flowers

Dwarf Red flowering dogwood (Cornus florida 'Red Pygmy'): a dwarf form with a upright habit reaching 5 to 6 feet high and wide; pinkish-red bracts; good for containers

Stellar Pink flowering dogwood (Cornus florida 'Stellar Pink'): Rounded 20 feet high and wide; pink flowers

Sweetwater Red flowering dogwood (Cornus florida 'Sweetwater Red'): Upright, rounded reaching 20 feet high and 15 feet wide; reddish foliage and deep reddish foliage; burgundy fall color

Location of Cornus florida (Flowering dogwood) at the Arboretum