Plant Profile: Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa)

Today’s Plant Profile is about one of my favorite small trees: the Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa). Kousas, as they’re commonly referred to, hail from eastern Asia and also go by the common name Japanese Dogwood. They are showstoppers in the landscape and for those who aren’t familar with them, expect the “what is that beautiful tree” questions to ensue.

kousa
Photo courtesy of www.rutgers.edu

 

As compared to the native dogwood Cornus florida, kousas bloom later in the spring. Here in Virginia, native dogwoods tend to bloom in April and kousas make their entrance into the flowering world in May. They also bloom when the leaves are on the trees whereas native dogwoods bloom before the leaves unfurl. Since the kousa blooms come out after the leaves emerge, they have a layered appearance that is stunning in the landscape. The blooms last for 4 weeks or more and carry the landscape into the early days of “unofficial” summer.

I enjoy using kousas in the landscape because they are much more tolerant of sun than the native dogwoods. So many times, well meaning folks plant native dogwoods in full sun and then wonder why it starts declining a few years later. “But it has more blooms in full sun” they say. Sure it does…and I hope that you enjoy them for the 10-15 years that the plant survives. If they are planted in the partial shade that they prefer in the wild, the trees will live a much longer life. But back to the kousa dogwoods. They are much better suited to full sun and actually prefer it over partial shade. Many new landscapes have little to no shade and kousas easily fit into these harsher environments.

Kousas rarely succumb to pests and diseases. Dogwood anthracnose has plagued our native dogwoods and I don’t personally recommend planting the straight species anymore. But the kousa dogwoods are there to fill the bill. There are many kousa cultivars that have hit the market recently. Let’s look at a few:

  • ‘Little Poncho’ – if you’re looking for a dwarf kousa that only reaches 8′-10′ tall in the landscape
  • ‘Milky Way’ – this cultivar is probably the one that you’ll see available most at garden centers. It has a broad bushy form and is loaded with flowers in the spring and fruits in the fall.
  • ‘Wolf Eye’ – this is a cultivar that has green leaves with a crisp, clear white margin. It is primarily grown for its foliage but it still has the same beautiful flowers as its non-variegated family members.

 

kousa
Photo courtesy of www.aragriculture.org

Kousa dogwoods have attractive salmon colored fruits that appear in the fall and are attractive in and of themselves.  The fruits can be eaten and turned into jelly or jam if your heart desires. That is if you can get to them before the birds and squirrels do…it’s pretty stiff competition in the fall.

Reaching 15′ to 20′ tall at maturity, kousas can be worked into virtually any landscape. If 15′ to 20′ is too tall for you, consider ‘Little Poncho’ for a smaller space. I hope that you will consider working a kousa dogwood somewhere into your landscape. Or if you have a kousa in your yard, tell other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers your experience with them. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!