The Georgetown Metropolitan

Know Your Trees: Dogwood


GM started the Know Your Trees series to educate you on the varieties of street trees you see around Georgetown. Typically these are medium to large tree chosen for shade or natural habitat for birds. But GM has pretty much exhausted the list of trees that fit that category, so he’s branching (no pun intended) out write about ornamental trees you might find around Georgetown, if not necessarily in a street tree box.

So this week GM is writing about one of the most popular ornamental trees around DC: the dogwood.

Other than a live oak, nothing quite evokes the south quite like a flowering dogwood. Arriving in the warmth of mid-spring, the white (and occasionally pinkish) dabbles of dogwood flowers grace their trees like they were just put there by Bob Ross’s paintbrush. If you’re unfamiliar with what dogwood flowers look like, they are typically four outwardly puckered petals around a central cluster, like this:

It’s that distinctive four petal look that gives away a dogwood, and helps you distinguish it from, say, a magnolia. (The flowers are also a bit smaller than magnolia flowers. Dogwood flowers are typically only a couple inches across.) In DC, the dogwood flowers appear after the cherries and magnolias have peaked and lost their blooms, typically in early May.

The trees themselves are generally small to medium sized, growing up to about 30 feet tall, and a bit more than that wide. Even after the flowers fall, you can easily identify a dogwood by its distinctive leaf, which looks like this:

(What’s distinctive is the pointed oval shape and the ribs)

And after the leaves fall in autumn, the bark can be identified by it’s slightly shaggy appearance:

The bark alone is probably not enough to identify the tree, but you can normally figure it out by a process of elimination. If you see a small to medium sized tree in a spot where you’d expect an ornamental tree (like a garden) you can first determine whether it has the smooth bark of a magnolia or the waxy horizontally marked bark of a cherry. If it doesn’t have either, it’s probably a dogwood (around DC at least).

So while magnolias and cherries get all the attention during the overture of spring, it’s the dogwood that gets to shine when the blissful days of high spring come around.