The Appalachian Spring dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Appalachian Spring’) is an outstanding flowering tree that blooms in the Spring on leafless branches.
Fans of Japanese gardens, such as the one I used to work at, are often looking for Cherry blooms in Spring. Instead they should be looking for arguably the most beautiful of the native American flowering trees, the Flowering dogwood.
What makes this Flowering dogwood special is the fact that has strong resistance to the lethal disease of flowering dogwood trees, dogwood anthracnose (Discula sp.)
This great tree was introduced by the University of Tenneesee from a disease-free tree found in the Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland. This resistance to anthracnose is huge as those in the Eastern U.S. know how devastating this disease is to native Flowering dogwood trees.
Many nurseries will suggest the related Chinese or Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) as it is also called , instead of our native flowering dogwood due to its resistance to dogwood anthracnose.
Flowering dogwood vs Kousa dogwood
While the Kousa dogwood does have it’s proponents, I am not one of them for three reasons.
One, I have planted two Kousa dogwoods at separate times in my old yard and they both died. One from heat and dry conditions and the other from not getting established before a hard winter. While I didn’t baby these plants, they received a bit more care and watering then I usually do for plants are proved to be a bit too delicate for my needs.
Two, we had several Kousa dogwood at Anderson Gardens so I have experience pruning these trees in a Japanese Garden. As our primary pruning goal was aesthetics and size containment , I absolutely hated these trees. Their stiff upright growth habit made pruning them into a natural looking form an annual source of frustration.
Now while the better pruners at the garden (Iain, Tim and Keith) could certainly make them presentable, I can only remember one I was ever happy with after pruning. So if you are considering a Kousa dogwood for your Japanese Garden, I would reconsider.
If you intend to let your tree grow unrestrained, Kousa dogwoods do mature to a nice form eventually. Although I would argue that Flowering dogwood, such as the Appalachian Spring dogwood have a nicer more natural looking form.
The third and final reason, I don’t recommend Kousa dogwood when compared to our native Cornus florida, is that it is not native to North America. Thus it does not support the wildlife that our native Flowering Dogwood does. Sure Kousa dogwood fruit is eaten by squirrels and ants, but that is about it.
“We have planted Kousa dogwood, a species from China that supports no insect herbivores, instead of our native flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) that supports 117 species of moths and butterflies alone.” – Doug Tallamy
If you are unsure why I would want caterpillars feeding on my trees, see my posts of Do you have a plastic plant in your yard? and What’s native in my yard?
This dogwood is a natural freak
The Appalachian Spring dogwood is not the product of genetic experiments ; it was discovered growing amid thousands of other trees that had died of anthracnose. While we may need to use DNA splicing and other forms of playing God to make Frankenstein like Chestnut trees that can survive diseases such as Chestnust Blight, the Appalachian Spring dogwood is a product of good old natural selection.
One tree out of thousands with a gene or two that protects it against a disease that afflicts most of it’s brothers and sisters. No Dr. Frankenstein required.
Appalachian Spring dogwood Facts
Hardiness zones: 5 – 9. One of the more cold hardy of the Flowering Dogwood cultivars. Don’t try and push the zone, any flowering dogwood planted in zone 4, is living on borrowed time.
Size: 15 to to 20 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide.
Growth rate: Medium (1-2 feet per year average). Slow after transplanting, but after becoming established it reaches a medium growth rate. It can reach 20 feet in 10 years in ideal conditions.
Soil: Best in moist nutrient-rich soil. It will tolerate a range of soil conditions although it prefers slightly acid loam. It will tolerate clay as well as growing near Black Walnuts. It won’t tolerate dry soil, so it’s it will need water during dry spells.
Light: It grows best in full sun but will tolerate part shade sites. Although found as an under story tree in Eastern woodlands. I recommend planting it in Full sun . There it will be less likely to suffer from diseases then in partial sun, especially in humid Midwestern climates such as mine near Chicago.
Bark: As it ages it’s attractive dark colored bark will begin to resemble alligator skin.
Flowers: The Appalachian Spring dogwood blooms in early spring (April or early May most) shortly after, but usually overlapping, the blooms of the redbuds. It has the typical snow white Flowering dogwood blooms we associate with these trees.
Fruit: Attractive, abundant, bright red fruits that are NOT edible to humans (some say they are poisonous) but are loved by birds. They mature and the end of summer or early fall. They will usually be gone before the start of winter.
Fall Color: The apple green leaves turn a nice red to purple color in the fall. Definitely a four season interest tree.
Wildlife Value: Birds, deer and other mammals will enjoy the fruit. Appalachian Spring dogwood is a host to the caterpillar of the Spring Azure butterfly (Celastrina ladon) and Dogwood thyatirid moth (Euthyatira pudens).
Verdict: Flowering Dogwood is one of the most beautiful American trees. They have showy early spring white flowers, red fruit, and scarlet red fall foliage. The Appalachian Spring dogwood is one of the best. It is a great native tree for use in nature inspired gardens, Japanese Gardens, and other landscapes where four season interest trees are appreciated.
While no flowering dogwood would be considered a tough tree, this selection is toughest where it counts. While it does have some disease and pest problems, it is highly resistant to the greatest threat to our native Flowering dogwood, anthracnose.
This dogwood also supports a wide range of native wildlife and is an important part of the ecology of the eastern half of the US.
If you have a sunnier spot and are looking for a smaller four season interest tree and your soil is not too dry, you should strongly consider adding the Appalachian Spring dogwood. I am.
Disaster at my home in ice storm, 2022, where very old, large, seemingly healthy Oak split in half literally with one side falling directly atop our very old row of dogwoods, crushing them all! Heartbreaking and shocking! Replacing the same variety of Dogwood is what I want to do. Is there a way, with a few seedlings from those, to identify their exact type? I’ve tried searching online for specific descriptions but am having trouble getting info. They were languid, wide-spreading low branches wide as tall, at least 20 feet. The Florida Appalachian Spring seems close, but it reads they bloom before leafing out, where mine bloomed after leafing out, at at Redbud bloom time here in Memphis. Tulip magnolias precede them both in blooming. How can this type dogwood be identified? Would a leaf from its seedling provide required DNA????? Thank you for any help you can offer.
Sorry I don’t know. Maybe someone reading this could help.
Very informative article. It is very difficult to find the Appalachian Spring dogwood. I have spoken with several nurseries but they don’t carry them. I did find one online last year!
Growing Grounds in Bloomington, IL has some. At least as of last Sunday. I plan to get one but wanted to research this tree first, which led me to this site.
Tom Fudala says
I’m having a hard time finding a local or even online Appalachian Spring dogwood. I found two nurseries, both out-of-state, that sell the Appalachian Spring dogwood, but they don’t ship….they are many miles away from Richmond, Va. where I live. I want to buy two dogwoods for planting now, this early Fall; both in 10 gallon pots to establish better root growth in our typical clay soils here in Richmond, Va…..preferably a 4′-5′ tall in 10 gallon pot Appalachian Spring dogwood and a 4′-5′ in 10 gallon pot Cherokee Brave dogwood. I want to purchase these two varieties now so I can plant now this early Fall in my front yard. Any help you can give me in finding them, including shipping if out of state, would be most appreciated. Tom, Richmond, Va.
I thought dogwoods did better in a lot of shade. I have an area that is mostly shady with a few hours of sun. would the appalachian spring do ok?
William Stewart says
Thanks for this good, helpful information, Jim; we would hate to lose our dogwoods, but it’s good to know there is a viable native replacement available. I would like to point out that you have two misplaced apostrophes in your article: “due to it’s resistance” the “it’s” here does not need an apostrophe because it is already considered to be possessive without one (this is an exception to the usual rule). “pretty buts thats all they are” here you DO need an apostrophe because what you mean is the contraction “it is” (also, you don’t need an “S” on but). Hope this helps!
Where can I purchase Appalachian spring flowering dogwoods in Maryland?
I do not know, but look at your independent nurseries that can probably special order one for you in the Spring from wholesalers if they don’t normally carry it.
I got mine from an online nursery. It’s doing great!
Melissa Schmidt says
Concur– top notch!
Thanks so much!
valerie edmonds says
Great article Jim!!!