Cornus is from the word cornu which means “horn” and refers to the hard wood; kousa is the Japanese name for this dogwood.
Other names include kousa dogwood, strawberry tree and yang-mei (Chinese).
NATIVE RANGE AND HABITAT
Not native to Kentucky
Habit and Form
Kousa dogwood is a deciduous, small to medium sized tree. Mature trees can reach 20 to 30 feet in height with an equal spread. Some cultivars, like the variegated ‘Wolf Eyes’, have a more compact, shrubby habit with a height and spread of only 6 feet or so. Young trees are upright with a tight vase-shaped habit, generally branched low to the ground. With maturity, it tends to spread, eventually becoming broad and compact.
Leaves are opposite, simple, narrow, oval to elliptic, 2 to 4 inches long and a little less than half as wide. with tapering tips. Leaves are untoothed with glossy dark green surfaces and tapering tips. Fall foliage color varies from little or no color to brilliant reds, oranges, and purple.
The small, button-like flowers are surrounded by four showy bracts. The flower bracts are bright to creamy-white, or occasionally pink and taper to a point. Bracts range from 1 to 3 inches long, some quite narrow and others broad and overlapping. The flowers emerge after the leaves, between May and June, and are pollinated by insects. The flowers are reported to have been used to ward-off bad or evil spirits.
The small red to reddish-orange drupes are fused into a raspberry-like fruit up to 1 inch in diameter. The fruit of kousa dogwood ripen between August and October and are showy. They hang gracefully on long stalks up to 2 inches long and may last from several weeks to almost two months. The fruit is edible.
Young plants have smooth and gray bark. Older wood often develops mottled gray-copper-olive areas due to exfoliating nature of the bark.
Wild and Cultivated Varieties
‘Aget’ has large bracts that remain on the tree as late as September.
‘Amber’ has multi-colored, variegated leaves.
‘Autumn Rose’ is a small tree with yellow-green spring foliage that turns light green in summer and pink to light red in autumn. The flower bracts are a soft white.
‘Baby Splash’ is a dwarf cultivar. The leaves are small and variegated.
‘Beni Fuji’ has narrow, dark red flower bracts. It is considered the darkest red of the C. kousa cultivars.
‘Big Apple’ is a large spreading tree. The fruits are 1 ¼ to 1 ½ inches across and the bracts are up to 5 inches across.
‘Blue Shadow’ has dark blue-green leaves and typically grows 30 feet tall.
‘Bon Fire’ summer leaves are gold with light and dark green variegation. The autumn leaves are variegated in shades of red and gold, thus the name “bonfire.”
‘Bush’s Pink’ has pink flower bracts and leaves that are tinted red.
‘Camden’ has a profusion of flowers and fruits. The cultivar was selected at Eastern Plant Specialties in Maine.
‘China Girl’ has large flowers and fruits. Trees flower in early spring.
‘Doubloon’ typically has more than 4 bracts per flower. The tree is tall and slender and the leaves are dark green.
‘Dr. Bump’ is typically shrub-like with an abundance of flowers.
‘Dwarf Pink’ has narrow, pink bracts. It typically grows 8 feet tall.
‘Ed Mezitt’ leaves are bronze in spring, green in summer and orange-red in autumn. It was named after the late Ed Mezitt of Weston Nurseries in Massachusetts.
‘Elizabeth Lustgarten’ has a rounded form with weeping branches in the top of the canopy. It was selected at Lustgarten Nurseries in New York.
‘Endurance’ has blooms that are effective for long periods.
‘Fanfare’ is a fast growing cultivar with a fastigate form.
‘Gay Head’ has flower bracts that are ruffled and curled.
‘Girard’s Nana’ is a dwarf cultivar that has an abundance of flower blooms.
‘Goldstar’ leaves have a band of gold. It was introduced from Japan.
‘Greensleeves’ has green flower bracts and wavy leaves that are dark green.
‘Highland’ has creamy flower bracts and a profusion of blooms.
‘Julian’ has large fruits and flower bracts that tend to curl at the tips. The autumn leaves are very effective.
‘Little Beauty’ has reddish-purple autumn leaves and a dense, bushy crown. It was introduced in 1993 by the J. C. Raulston Arboretum.
‘Lustgarten Weeping’ has a weeping habit.
‘Madame Butterfly I’ is a prolific flowering tree. The flowers resemble butterflies floating on the branches. The flower pedicels are long and the bracts turn up right.
‘Milky Way’ is a cultivar of the var. chinensis. It has a bushy habit and an abundance of flowers and fruit.
‘Moonbeam’ has large drooping bracts, up to 8 inches in diameter. It was selected and patented by Polly Wakefield.
‘Moonlight’ is similar to ‘Moonbeam’ but the bracts do not droop over to the same extent.
‘Pollywood’ has large flowers that last late into the season. It was selected by Polly Hill.
‘Radiant Rose’ is characterized by pink flower bracts, red tinted summer leaves and rich red autumn leaves.
‘Rochester’ has large flower bracts that are very eye catching.
‘Silver Cup’ has white flower bracts that are cup-shaped. Trees are reportedly drought resistant.
‘Snowbird’ has a compact form with smallish flowers and fruit.
‘Speciosa’ has dark green leaves with wavy leaf margins. It was selected in the 1950s in New Jersey.
‘Steeple’ is moderately fastigiate. The leaves are dark green and lustrous.
‘Summer Games’ has variegated leaves.
‘Summer Majesty’ is characterized by white flower bracts that appear to be brushed with pink. The flowers are long-lasting. It was selected by Mitsch Nursery in Oregon.
‘Summer Stars’ has relatively long-lasting flowers and dark green leaves.
‘Temple Jewel’ has leaves that are variegated with green, gold and pink.
‘Ticknor’s Choice’ has flower bracts that change back to green when they mature. The autumn colors are orange, red and pink.
‘Trinity Star’ leaves are dappled pink, green and white.
‘Triple Crown’ flowers bloom in 3s. The tree is relatively small.
‘Variegata’ has variegated leaves that turn creamy and reddish-pink in fall.
‘Wilton’ has long-lasting flowers. It was introduced as ‘Wiltoni’ by Hoogendorn Nursery.
‘Wolf Eyes’ is a shrubby form with highly variegated leaves with pink to red autumn color.
Cornus kousa var. angustata is evergreen to Zone 6. The leaves are narrow and deep green in summer, turning purplish-red in autumn. It was introduced in 1980 from China.
Cornus kousa var. chinensis is generally taller with a more open habit than the species. The flowers and fruit also tend to be larger. The flower bracts are light green as they emerge but mature to a soft white. It is from China and was introduced around 1907 by E. H. Wilson.
Kousa dogwood is a popular ornamental with attractive bark, foliage, flowers and shape. Trees can be used as specimens, in foundation plantings and shrub borders. Kousa dogwoods are often used off the corners of buildings to soften architectural lines.
Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 8.
Slow. Reported possibly medium in early stages of growth.
Cultivation and Propagation Information
Kousa loves moist, acidic, well-drained soil with lots of organic matter. Trees grow best in partial shade to full sun. Transplant balled-and-burlapped or containerized trees in the spring. Kousa thrive in even moisture, with no extremes of wet or drought. Give them a generous circle of 2 to 3 inches of mulch out to the drip line and beyond to protect the roots and keep mowers and weed eaters away from the base of the trunks.
Diseases and Insects
None serious. Resistant to many of the pests that affect Cornus florida.
Kousa dogwood is of little importance to wildlife, except as shelter.
Prune deadwood anytime, for size or shaping when dormant in winter. Pruning is not necessary and is best avoided. Kousa dogwood has become naturalized in parts of New York.
TRADITIONAL AND MODERN USES
People of Japan, Korea and eastern Asia have long eaten the fruit.
There are 65 different species of dogwoods. Kousa dogwood is widely used as an ornamental throughout the world. Kousa dogwood was introduced into cultivation in the 1870s.