Good Samaritan


Some things, I’ll never figure out. I hope that I’ve learned a few lessons over twenty-six years gardening this plot, but many mysteries remain.

Our native Eastern dogwood (Cornus florida) is an understory tree that will flower a bit even in deep shade, though it blooms heaviest at the forest’s edge with more sunlight. The Chinese dogwood (Cornus kousa) is a more vigorous and sturdy tree (with  fewer disease issues), but it prefers a sunnier location to flower at all. This spring, two Chinese dogwoods in the garden will display flowers for the first time, or at least the first that I recall.

Samaritan dogwood in late May
Samaritan dogwood in late May

I’ve never quite figured out the green and white leafed ‘Samaritan’. It has splendid variegated foliage, so that it is attractive even when not flowering, but until a few weeks ago I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bloom on it. And, not that it hasn’t had sufficient time. The vigorous tree is at least twelve feet tall, probably taller. In its defense, it is somewhat wedged between a Stewartia and tree lilac, but I don’t think it has been so shaded that it shouldn’t flower. Now, the neighboring trees have grown larger, but ‘Samaritan’ is flowering, mostly near the top, but there are scattered flowers on lower, more shaded branches. I’ve no idea why, but long ago I accepted that it would never flower, and now it is, so there will be  no complaint from me.

When first planted, I knew that the green leafed Chinese dogwood was planted too far into the forest’s canopy to flower. But, and I don’t recall the specifics except I’m certain the tree was damaged, I probably paid almost nothing for it. So, I had a dogwood in hand, and where does it go? In fact, it’s not even on my property, but the space was more or less open and there it went. The tree has grown without complaint, except that it has been too shaded to flower, until this year. Perhaps this has something to do with a maple in the forest that crashed down in an ice storm two years ago. The difference in sunlight is imperceptible to me, but there must be a bit more because other nearby plants have spread and seeded more than ever.

Wolf Eyes dogwood flowers heavily in full sun
Wolf Eyes dogwood flowers heavily in full sun

‘Wolf Eyes’ is a more spreading and shorter growing version of the variegated ‘Samaritan’, but its foliage curls in a manner that does not show the leaves to their best advantage. It’s not unsightly at all, but the more typical foliage of ‘Samaritan’ is preferable, I think. I’ve planted ‘Wolf Eyes’ in nearly full sun, and it flowers heavily enough that the foliage is nearly covered most years in late May. I figure the difference in flowering is more a result of sun exposure than that one tree flowers more heavily than the other. For whatever reason, ‘Wolf Eyes’ gets a few too many brown leaves by early summer, which is not characteristic of other Chinese dogwoods in the garden. Another mystery.

Satomi dogwood
‘Satomi’ dogwood has excellent, glossy foliage and flowers heavily. In this photo the flowers are typically white with a slight blush of pink.

I’ve commented frequently though the years, but the pink flowered Chinese dogwood ‘Satomi’ is only slightly pink. I’ve seen the trees flowering in the lower humidity of Oregon, and they’re as pink as a flower can get, but in Virginia I charitably say that they have a pink blush. One year, I think, ‘Satomi’ and the hybrid ‘Stellar Pink’ flowered pink, but never again. I expect this is due to warmer temperatures or increased humidity since I see the faded color everywhere in the area. I gave up being concerned about it years ago, but anyone wanting to plant one should be forewarned.

Galilean dogwood
‘Galilean’ is a vigorous Chinese dogwood with a distinctly upright habit. This tree is dependable in my garden for heavy crops of strawberry-like fruits in late summer.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Don Peters says:

    Dave, I, too, love dogwoods, and have two in my small yard. But I recently saw a very interesting dogwood called Aka Tsuki, which has variegated leaves and doesn’t grow too tall. So I bought one, and then another. When I planted the first last year, I thought it was almost dead, but this spring it has come out beautifully. Unfortunately, the second one seems comatose. Have you heard of these new dogwoods?

    1. Dave says:

      I visit a few tree farms that grow a handful each of a bunch of unusual dogwoods. Because supplies are so limited these are usually prohibitively expensive, but if I had a bit more room I’d love to have one of each. I see that ‘Akatsuki’ is a variegated sport of ‘Satomi’, so I’m interested to see if it flowers pink. I see descriptions that say rose, pink, or white flowers, so I suspect it will perform similarly to ‘Satomi’. It looks like a great tree. I’d be overjoyed to jam one into the garden if any small space was available.

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