Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Who Put the Dog in Dogwood

We love our kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa).  A five foot tall twiggy sapling when we planted it in 2006,  it has since morphed into a sprawling, gracious tree that is now an impressive 12 feet high with a spread of 15 feet.

It's breathtaking when it's in full bloom in the spring and equally stunning in the fall when the leaves become a gorgeous carnelian with hints of purple and the fruit ripens to a deep maroon red.

The showy "petals" are not petals at all.

What is often mistaken for a flower is actually a cluster of leaf bracts surrounding the true flower cluster.

Bracts are leaves that are usually different from the "regular" foliage leaves. Often they are bright and showy and attract bees and other insects who are needed to pollinate the flowers.

In the case of most kousas, the bracts start out white and may develop a pink tint as they age, and that is the case with our other kousa.

Shown here, our older kousa has a shrubbier growth pattern and blooms pure white, without a hint of rose or pink, even as the blossoms age.

But our kousa tree is unique in that the blooms start out heavily tinted rose and green and become white as they age.

When the bracts first appear, the outer edges are tinged with a deep wine color and the bracts themselves are brushed with a pale rose wine over lime green. From a distance, this gives the tree the appearance of having mauve or rose blossoms. 

Although it's not the true pink dogwood that I had my heart set on when we got it, the effect is indeed distinctive and lovely.

A young blossom, the flowers have not yet bloomed. The showy bracts are brushed with wine.
An older blossom whose flowers have finished blooming. The bracts are faded to white and are drying and falling away from the developing fruit.

The true flowers of the kousa dogwood are pretty innocuous and bloom in a tight cluster.  They are surrounded by four colored bracts and give the illusion of a four petaled flower with a knobby green center.

Once the flowers have been pollinated, the flower head develops into a fruit.

Unripe, the green fruit stands out from the flower on a long, sturdy stem.

Over the summer it slowly swells as seeds form. In the fall, it ripens into a mature, seed filled fruit. The individual lobes increase in size and turn from green to a deep, dusky red.

When fully ripe, the fruit resembles large raspberries but the similarity stops there.

The fruit is edible and sweet and different varieties have different flavor palettes.

It provides a tasty winter food for birds and squirrels and a few humans and dogs as well.

We'll explore the flavor and texture of this fruit more in the fall but at least one member of our fur family is too impatient for the fruit to ripen. 

Katie nips a green fruit off one of the lower branches.
Our youngest Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Katie, has developed a fondness for the green fruits.

She loves to climb the rocks behind the pond to sneak a tasty morsel whenever she can.

Chewing the green fruit right off the tree.
After she ate the fruit off one branch, she moved on to another.



  1. I had no idea the fruit of kousa dogwood is edible. Seeing your dog nipping the fruit off the branches reminds me of our beloved black lab, who passed away a few years ago. She loved mucadines and wild cherries. She would stretch as high as she could to get fruit. If it had fallen to the ground and was slightly fermented, all the better!

  2. I did not know the fruit could be eaten either. Your pup seems to like them and is awfully cute nibbling away.

  3. It is indeed a lovely tree... I've been trying for years to get a kousa going in the gardens with little success. I do have a very slowly developing seedling from an expensive Satomi that died two years after the installation in the garden. The seedling has managed to live a great many years and is finally growing a bit... probably too dry and shady where I have it but can't bring myself to risk moving it! Your dog is very special... our neighbors have one too. Have a good week... Larry

  4. You know I love your gardens, but your pups steal the show for me...love them to bits!!! Beautiful pic's on the dogwood too and cute title =)

  5. Never heard of it. It's very lovely. The growth of the "flowers" reminds me of Poinsetta.

  6. Very pretty. I love the Dogwoods and have been considering a new shrub they have out. Trying to decide if I have a location with enough shade, which means moving another shrub. :)
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  7. so that's why it's called dogwood!? when I was choosing my blog name it was a toss up between dogwood or catmint. I appreciate this post. I have a special fondness for king charles spaniels and bracts - not necessarily in that order.

  8. Debsgarden and Greenapplesgarden, Thanks for stopping by! I’ll be doing a post in the fall with a cupcake recipe. ;) My dogs eat the strawberries off the vines too. We finally gave up putting tomatoes in a bed and keep them in large urns or we’d never have any of those either.

    Larry, thanks for dropping by. Too bad about that satomi. We have a tuliptree that has to be moved and after much debate, we’ve decided to hire someone to do it. And yes, we adore our little furkids.

    Julia, thanks so much. These dogs (we have 4 of them) are such hams…. Real camera hounds, except for Katie, who could care less what you’re doing, especially if she’s eating or getting into trouble!

    Bridget., thanks for stopping by. Yes, it’s exactly like a poinsettia!

    Sunray Gardens , the tree is planted in full sun and the kousa shrub (I say shrub but it’s a shrub that is even taller than the tree!) is in partial, mostly bright shade. It might do just fine in a really sunny spot if that’s all you have. That has been the case here.

    Catmint, too funny, LOL. I have a fondness for both too. This tree was supposed to be a true pink dogwood to replace one the landscaper drove over with a Bobcat and destroyed. The pink had been a gift from my husband the first year we were engaged and was identical to one I had in the garden in my former home. I STILL want one of those LOL.

  9. You are right the white bracts make the tree look so lovely! The flowers of dogwood resemble so much our own mengkudu blooms and the resulting fruit too. Though our mengkudu fruits can be eaten to those who have the palate for them moreover they smell like vomit and are sometimes called Vomit fruit! But the shoots (very bitter) and the fruits are eaten for their beneficial medicinal value.

  10. What a great post, you've provided us with a really good portrait of a lovely tree.

  11. P3chandan, I would be so sad if these smelled that bad! EEEEUUUUUUUWWWWW! This has no fragrance at all. (Probably a good thing, and the fruit is flavorful.)

    Janet, thanks so much for stopping by!

  12. It's a lovely tree and blooms beautifully in your garden. A few years ago a friend and I decided to taste the 'fruit'; it needed time to ripen! gail

  13. Hi Cathy,
    Beautiful Dogwood and a full show of colors!! I see Katie is a happy pup, still busy as can be!! I had a lab (Holly) and one year she decided she liked Quince fruit, I doubt she really ate any, but she smelled horrible!

  14. Gail and Bella, thanks for visiting! Yes, the fruit does need to ripen! We have quince but it's in the front where the dogs can't get it or I;m sure they'd be into it. They really do love fruit, this crew.

  15. Cathy you are going to have to go out and buy some dogfood for Katie, you can't just expect her to live off the land like that!

  16. Your dogwood is gorgeous! I used to grow some in Dallas, and I miss them a lot. For some reason they don't grow here, maybe not enough humidity? Funny that your dog loves the tree too, it is great when a plant makes everyone in the family happy :).

  17. What do you mean??? She gets all the basic food groups! Toughie shares his voles, rabbits, and gophers, she gets strawberries and crabapples and she nibbles on lavender. Plus she helps me weed. (So what if she pukes half of it back up???!!!) You want me to feed her kibble on top of that????

  18. Thank you for a very informative post about this lovely tree. Sadly my garden is too hot and dry for it to thrive. It is interesting that many plants we think of as being purely decorative are actually edible. Thanks for stopping by My Hesperides Garden. Christina

  19. Masha, I'm not sure why they don't grow where you are. I would think they;d do fine. They do not need a lot of humidity per se.

    Christina, thanks for stopping by! And yes, many plants are edible, or their "fruit" is.

  20. Well I did not know that they were bracts Cathy. I thought Dogwoods had flower blooms. How interesting and you have taught me something. They are all beautiful.

  21. What an impressive tree, love the way the colour bleeds on the bracts - very ptetty.


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