July 27, 2020 /
Jona Elwell

Which is Which: Dogwood Edition

Tree identification is a journey. You start with recognizable, unusual, indisputable features like the leaves of the ginkgo, the exfoliating bark of a london planetree or the spiky seed pods of an American sweetgum.  But as you continue on your journey, it’s easy to spot swaths of species – that’s a magnolia, that looks like an oak, I bet that’s a maple – but it’s trickier to hone in on species level identification. Enter our newest series – Which is Which – designed to answer that very question! First up, we’re starting with the state tree of Virginia, the dogwood, to show y’all the difference between a Flowering Dogwood, a Kousa Dogwood and more. 

Dogwoods are small, slow-growing trees that fall under the genus Cornus. Their famous flowers, which attract pollinators like bees and butterflies, are surrounded by four, bright bracts. You can add a pop of color and attract pollinators to your yard at little to no cost or effort to you by planting a Dogwood through our many residential planting programs!

And now to figuring out which is which:

Flowering Dogwood

Flowering Dogwood | Cornus florida

When folks picture a dogwood, this is usually what they’re thinking of. The white or flowering dogwood grows to a height of around 25′ and a spread of around 25′ at maturity, so it’s a relatively small tree. It blooms with white, pink, or red flowers in early spring with a low-branching habit with a flattish crown. Flowering dogwoods also feature glossy red fruit eaten by birds and it provides great fall color, with leaves turning red-purple.

Pink Dogwood Bracts

Pink Dogwood | Cornus florida var. rubr


The pink dogwood is a very popular landscape tree – take a look at this stunning specimen in full bloom, and you’ll know why. A variety of the flowering dogwood, it shares many of its features including glossy red fruit that ripen in the fall, eye catching red or reddish-purple foliage. The Pink Dogwood, though, blooms with pink bracts and features dark green leaves that are oval or egg-shaped, tapering to a sharp point. 

Kousa Dogwood bracts

Kousa Dogwood | Cornus kousa

Also known as Chinese dogwood, Korean dogwood, or Japanese dogwood, the Kousa dogwood is a small deciduous tree that reaches about 15 feet at maturity. Much like the flowering dogwood it is colorful in all seasons, but with a slight difference: look for the abundant display of yellowish-green flowers in spring, pinkish-red berries in summer, and purplish red fall color from the leaves. Another determining factor? Its mottled, exfoliating, textured bark can brighten up your winter.

Pagoda dogwood plant

Pagoda Dogwood | Cornus alternifolia

Also known as alternate-leaf dogwood, this tree is one of very few dogwoods that have leaves arranged alternately rather than in opposite positions on the stems. It gets its other common name Pagoda from the branches that form in layers and the crown is flat, suggestive of a pagoda. 

Want more Tree ID Tips? Check out our virtual tree ID offerings on our remote learning platform at