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Spotlight On: Dogwood, And The Flowers That Aren’t Flowers

By May 11, 2020March 22nd, 2022Plant Spotlight
Spotlight On: Dogwood, And The Flowers That Aren't Flowers

Signs of spring are easy to spot in your garden. From bulbs pushing their shoots up through recently thawed soil, to bright yellow cascades of forsythia flowers, Mother Nature shows off her newfound joy each year.

These bursts of color and life bring us hope and enjoyment, a small taste of the blooms and beauty to come. In our Spotlight series, we highlight some of these seasonal beauties and explore the ways that they can enhance landscapes, improve curb appeal, and just make us happier year-round.

We’ve showcased the red and yellow twig dogwood for winter color and interest, and now we’re introducing a springtime favorite: the flowering Dogwood. This tree has a number of unique characteristics that will add something special to your landscape throughout each season, starting with its lovely springtime flowers… except they’re not really flowers!

Intrigued? Read more to learn about this fantastic seasonal favorite, and a few tidbits that will level up your trivia game!

flowering dogwood bractWhen Is A Flower Not A Flower?

When it’s the petals on a Dogwood tree!

Those white or pink petals that are so iconic are actually called bracts, which are neither flowers nor leaves. Rather, they’re a specialized plant part that is designed to protect the true flowers from pests and harsh weather, as well as to attract pollinators.

So where are the flowers on the flowering dogwood? Look very closely in the center of the bract and you’ll see the tiny, four-petaled flowers growing in a cluster. Yep, those are the flowers, and the big, showy petals you know so well are only there to protect and help them.

If you really want to show off during Friday night trivia, you’ll also recognize other “flowers” that aren’t flowers. The red petals of the Poinsettia, for one, are also bracts. The flowers are those tiny bits in the center. Those show-stopping Bougainvillea blooms? Bracts. The true flowers are also quite tiny and typically white.

But whether it’s called a flower or a bract or a caboose, it still brings beauty and charm to our landscapes! And whether you’re looking for an accent tree or a focal point, a single specimen or a row of them along your fence line, there’s a variety to suit your needs.

flowering dogwood berries

Care & Maintenance

Dogwood trees are popular for their beautiful blooms and four-season interest, and also because they’re so low maintenance. They can survive in full sun or partial shade, dry areas or wet, and will adapt to everything from sandy to clay-like soil.

They’re also resistant to major plant diseases, and any common pests you might encounter are usually easy to prevent and treat.

Dogwood trees grow fairly quickly, too, so if you’re designing a new landscape or filling in a bare spot and don’t want to wait years for your planting to mature, these trees will delight you with a foot or more of growth each year until they reach full height.

As for pruning, these trees have a naturally pleasing rounded shape, so they need little help from your shears. If you must prune, whether you want to shape the tree or encourage growth, wait until late fall or early winter when the tree is dormant, or it will “bleed” sap.

Placing a dogwood is easy and fun, too. Position it against a dark wall for contrast, add it to a dull spot for a burst of color, or plant it under an existing tall tree or other shady area where nothing much seems to grow. It can even be placed next to structures like your home, driveway, patio or walkway without worry that it will grow too large and block or damage them.

As an added bonus, this tree can also be grown in a container. It’s definitely more challenging and requires a good amount of space for the roots, well-drained soil, and more watering than usual because containers dry out quickly. But if you’re determined and not a shy gardener, it is certainly possible!

flowering dogwood with birds nestWhy We Love It

Here’s another bit of trivia for your mental basket: the dogwood is the official state memorial tree of New Jersey. It is planted in parks, along highways, at monuments, and at building sites to honor the men and women in our Armed Forces.

In addition to its place of honor in our state, it should have a place of prominence in our yards to celebrate its beauty all year long. Its blooms will appear as early as mid-March and will last up to a full month.

In summer, its green leaves are beautifully bold and glossy. Some varieties display a green and yellow variegation. Those leaves will turn a crimson-to-purple color during fall, accompanied by bright red berries that will surely attract birds.

And speaking of birds, at least 36 different species have been found to flock to these trees for mealtime. Robins and sparrows commonly build nests in their branches, making them a great choice for bird watchers and wildlife enthusiasts.

The berries will persist for much of the winter, adding a pop of color to the dullest landscape. And throughout winter, it offers a graceful branch structure and uniquely interesting bark to add texture and visual appeal.

How can you *not* love this tree!

There are just too many interesting facts about this tree, its uses and history to list here. It’s a favorite for a reason, and will make an excellent addition to any landscape. If you want to know more about how a flowering dogwood can be an asset in your yard, let us know. There are many creative ways that this beauty can be designed into your space.