Monday, June 2, 2008

Flowering dogwoods

Can there be a more beautiful tree? I don't think so, but I have never been tempted to plant one. Flowering dogwoods, Cornus florida, are so beset with pests and diseases that I have refrained from planting any for fear of losing the fruits of my labor. I prefer to enjoy other people's dogwoods. A very handsome example is across the street from the Plainfield Public Library at the corner of Park and Crescent Avenues.

Flowering dogwood is a tree of four-season beauty. Its spectacular spring floral display is followed by handsome red berries and rich maroon fall foliage. The tree's persimmon-like bark provides visual interest even in winter. A dogwood in fall foliage at 1340 Watchung Avenue is pictured below.

Dogwoods are prey to borers and a number of diseases. The most serious threat to dogwoods is dogwood anthracnose. This fungal disease was first recognized in the United States in the 1970s. By the 1980s, garden writers were lamenting the rapid disappearance of flowering dogwoods, which are native to the eastern United States.

An anthracnose-resistant substitute for the native Cornus florida is an Asian dogwood, Cornus kousa. Kousa dogwoods are in bloom now. Unlike native dogwoods, which bloom on naked stems, kousa dogwoods bloom after their leaves have formed. A native dogwood in flower often gives the impression that an artist has arranged the placement of each flowering branch for maximum charm. With kousa dogwoods the impression is rather of robust and dense bushiness.

There are outstanding kousa dogwoods at 960 Glenwood Avenue, one of which is pictured below.

Another handsome kousa dogwood is at the rear of 975 Hillside Avenue, pictured below.

There is a fine kousa dogwood between 980 and 996 Hillside Avenue, pictured below.

The flowers(1) of some kousa varieties last for much of the summer.

Professor Elwin Orton of Rutgers hybridized native dogwoods with kousa dogwoods in an attempt to blend the look of the natives with the borer-resistance of the kousas. His family of hybrids, called the Stellar series, is also resistant to anthracnose. I have seen them for sale locally, but I don't know of any planted in Plainfield. I would be grateful to hear of any Stellar hybrids that can be seen from the street.

Other trees in flower in Plainfield now include fringetree, Chionanthus virginicus. The tree pictured below is at 653 Ravine Road.

Also flowering now (but I know of none visible from the street) are Japanese styrax, Styrax japonica, pictured below, and

American yellowwood, Cladrastis kentukea, pictured below.

(1) Not really flowers, but bracts. Dogwood bracts are the bud scales that enlarge and take on color after they open. The actual flowers are tiny and are clustered together in the center of what we think of as the bloom.

Copyright Gregory Palermo


Anonymous said...

Love the dogwoods. Heard there used to be hybrids of white and pink planted along driveways of some homes on watchung ave.

Dottie Gutenkauf said...

Greg, I just want to tell you how refreshing and informative your blog always is--thank you for doing this!