Plant Profile: Cornus nuttallii

cornus nuttallii x florida 'Eddie's White Wonder'

by Cat Meholic, 2017-19 Curatorial Graduate Student

April 3, 2018

Cornus nuttallii, the Pacific or Mountain Dogwood, can be described as the west coast version of flowering dogwood (Cornus florida). Pacific Dogwood is native from the mountains of California to British Columbia with a disjunct population in Idaho. Like flowering dogwood, the Pacific Dogwood has showy white bracts in spring, typically in groups of six. The bracts can be spotted with a pink or yellow blush, and surround a small globe of “true flowers” which are purple and green. Fall color is reliable, and can vary from yellow to red. The Pacific Dogwood is an understory icon in British Columbia and was made the official emblem of British Columbia in 1956.

Although Pacific Dogwood has many ornamental merits, as a straight species, hardiness and numerous disease issues, including anthracnose, make it difficult to grow in the Eastern US. Cornus nuttallii is, however, used as a parent in many hybrid crosses to increase the size and number of the bracts, which increase the floral display.

One of the most successful crosses is Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) with Cornus nuttallii. This cross is formally called Cornus x elwinortonii and has produced a pallet of cultivars suitable for gardens in the Delaware Valley. Two cultivars of this hybrid are available in the coming Spring Plant Sale; Cornus x elwinortonii ‘KN144-2’ Stellar Pink® Dogwood and Cornus x elwinortonii ‘KN4-43’ Starlight® Dogwood. Both hybrids are of suitable size for a residential landscape, reaching only to 30 feet, and require sitting in full sun or
part shade. Stellar Pink® Dogwood is distinguished by its upturned light pink bracts, and lack of consistent fruit, whereas the Starlight® Dogwood has larger white bracts in groups of 4-6, and an abundant red fruit in the fall.

The fall color on both is reliably ornamental, often appearing mottled with scarlet and terracotta. Most cultivars are hardy from zones 7 to 9, and all prefer soils with excellent drainage. Suitable for residential sites, any of the Pacific Dogwood hybrids can be used as a specimen or in a small grouping, and are especially ornamental when sited against an evergreen or dark background for multi-season interest.