The Common dogwood, also known as European dogwood, is Cornus sanguinea, a species native to Europe and western Asia. It has three inch leaves that hang elegantly on a shrubby tree that grows as high as thirty feet though it is generally found at 20 feet. The small, scented flowers are creamy white and produce black fruits, called dogberries, that are a wildlife favorite. The basic species is reasonably attractive but definitely plays second to the more elegant Flowering dogwood native to North America. But this drab spinster cousin has given birth to numerous cultivars whose leaves, twigs and bark exhibit brazen colors that brighten the most drab winter landscape. These "winter fire" varieties are famous for leaves that turn orange-yellow in autumn before falling to reveal the brilliant red, orange, or yellow winter stems. These cultivars have been described as, "A twiggy bonfire”(Val Bourne).

And that's a fair description. These bright cultivars are typically multi-stemmed, suckering, and growing to a mere 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide over several years. The outstanding feature is, of course, the colored stems which are all the more brilliant because they are at their most vivid in the dead of winter.

In cold winter regions, such as Canada, the upper US and the UK, winter fire dogwood is a must for dull landscapes. But this fabulous dogwood looks best planted in groups in damp areas of the garden, beside water, or in a winter border.

Midwinter Fire is fast-growing in full sun to part shade in any moderately fertile soil. It has no serious insect or disease problems and requires little more than occasionally pruning out the oldest stems since the youngest stems color-up best.

The straight, hard shoots produced by the Common dogwood were used as arrows in prehistoric Europe as well as skewers, which were called dogs, hence the common name. Whereas the basic species is an attractive tree, it is probably best used for naturalized settings. The brightly colored cultivars are best grouped in more prominent places.


Common dogwood

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