The winter wonderland white that has blanketed our landscape the past two weeks has us dreaming of a different kind of white: the springtime blossoms of the Pacific Dogwood (Cornus nuttali).
With their distinctive white flowers appearing from April to June, the tree is often a centerpiece of the landscape, and a welcome reminder that spring has sprung! Those greenish-white flowers though are actually composed of 4-6 bracts encircling a yellow-green button-like cluster of flowers. Fortunately, despite the sometimes-dreary winters of the Pacific Northwest, the Pacific Dogwood is able to photosynthesize just one-third full sunlight. This uncommon trait among hardwoods makes it a favorable tree for brightening up partial to full-shade areas.
A deciduous, long-living tree, Pacific Dogwoods mature to a height of 20 to 30 feet in garden, and up to 65 feet in ideal natural conditions. Sometimes referred to as the mountain dogwood, the species is native to western North America, ranging from the mountains of southern California to southern British Columbia. The tree’s range briefly expanded nationwide in 1998, when the USPS issued a stamp celebrating the northwest native; for a brief period the stunning blooms also brightened mailboxes!
While the tree’s high concentration of tannins results in a bitter taste not popular among deer, their presence is a welcome homesite for butterfly caterpillars. Historically, the hard, close grained wood of the dogwood was used by Native Americans to make salmon harpoons, bows, arrows, and knitting needles, among other everyday tools.
While bundles of Pacific Dogwood have already sold out for the Underwood Conservation District’s (UCD) 2019 Native Plant Sale, those interested in adding a tree to their yard can propagate one from seed. To do so, the fruit should be collected as soon as mature and planted either as is or with the pulp removed. The seed should germinate within a few weeks; prior to planting out, saplings should be kept in clay pots in an effort to prevent root rot. Those kept in pots more than two years have a decreased survival rate.
And if thoughts of the Pacific Dogwood’s blooms have you thinking about other spring landscape projects, other varieties of bareroot tree and shrub seedling are still available via UCD’s annual Native Plant Sale. For more information or to place an order, visit the UCD website (www.ucdwa.org) and click on “Shop Native Plants”; or call the conservation district office at 509-493-1936. Underwood Conservation District is one of 45 locally led, non-regulatory conservation districts in Washington state that serves local landowners in understanding natural resources with advice, hands-on assistance and cost-share programs.