Many of our White Salmon deciduous trees have begun celebrating Spring with some show stopping blooms – yellows, pinks, purples, and white. The Kousa Dogwood (Cornus Kousa) is a hardy, yet delicate and beautiful tree that extends the season of tree blossoms as it displays its beautiful, white, star-like, petals in late May to early June, several weeks after native dogwoods have bloomed. In Summer its dark green leaves provide beauty and shade. Late August-October, it produces a berry-like edible fruit. In Autumn the leaves transition into a scarlet and lovely purple shade. In winter, this unique dogwood sheds its leaves to reveal a beautiful mottled, tannish-gray, copper, and olive bark that exfoliates as it ages. With a slow to medium growth rate, the Kousa Dogwood displays a vase shape in its youth and matures into a rounded crown with strong, horizontal limbs. It reaches a height of 18-30 feet and grows wider than it is tall.
Unlike most flowering trees, the Kousa Dogwood’s leaves appear before the flowers. Its branches exhibit opposite, simple leaves that form an elliptic, ovate shape with a pointed tip.
Its creamy-white “flowers” are actually bracts, made of four petal-like leaves surrounding the true flower in the center, an inconspicuous yellow-green, clustered orb. Different from the flowering dogwood, its “flowers” have pointed tips, rather than rounded flower bracts. And in maturity its blooms are upward facing, spread across the tops of its branches.
In late Summer, the Cornus Kousa’s yellow-green true flower has begun to ripen to a pinkish orange or raspberry red compound 1” berry, resembling a red soccer ball. This edible fruit can vary widely in flavor from tree to tree. Once soft and ripe they are sweet and delicious with a flavor similar to papaya with a custard-like, somewhat mealy texture. While the coarse, paper-like skin is edible, it is bitter in taste and typically discarded.
To consume, break open the fruit and suck out the amber, creamy pulp. Then spit out the seeds.
Native to East Asia the Cornus Kousa is also known as the the “Japanese Flowering Dogwood,” the “Japanese Strawberry Tree,” the “Chinese Dogwood,” and the “Korean Dogwood.” It was first recorded in the US in 1875 and has become naturalized in New York state. Its fruit has long been enjoyed by the people of Japan, China, and Korea for its sweetness and its herbal, medicinal qualities. Its fruit is also loved by birds and its seeds are collected by squirrels. The fruit does not store well and is best eaten fresh or included in juices or smoothies. It can also be fermented and used in making wine.
The Kousa Dogwood is effectively planted as a specimen tree, in shrub borders, small groves, woodland gardens, in containers, bird gardens, naturalized areas, or near buildings to soften architectural lines. It does well in partial shade or full sun. With a shallow root system, mulching is recommended to maintain a cool root environment. It prefers moist, well-drained soil. Other than removing deadwood, pruning is unnecessary. However, as the tree matures, its colorful, puzzle-like bark is so striking that the lower branches ought to be thinned to display the bark’s gorgeous appearance. The Kousa is less susceptible to disease, powdery mildew, and is more drought and cold tolerant than other flowering dogwoods.
As a reliable, small tree, the Kousa Dogwood provides folks in northern states with dependable, blooming beauty and a taste of tropical fruit. It has long been a favorite among tree breeders who have cultivated smaller, taller, weeping, and different colored varieties.
To extend Spring’s blooms and increase in beauty and interest year-round, consider adding a Kousa Dogwood to your home, garden, or business. And don’t forget to plant - and lovingly maintain (prune, feed, water, protect, mulch, and admire) your trees this Spring!