Plant of the week

Cornus Kousa Chinensis

Each week, OGV sub-committee member, Gayle Parkes presents the 'Plant of the Week'. She also posts to OGV's Instagram - make sure you check back weekly for her latest post. This week Gayle brings us Cornus Kousa, which has bright red strawberry-like inedible berries that wildlife seem to love

Cornus kousa is a small deciduous tree 8 –10 m tall, in the flowering plant family Cornaceae. Common names include kousa, kousa dogwood, Chinese dogwood, Korean dogwood, and Japanese dogwood. Synonyms are Benthamia kousa and Cynoxylon kousa. It is a plant native to East Asia including Korea, China and Japan.

What a remarkably showy tree is Cornus kousa! I first fell in love with this tree many years ago when I belonged to a garden group. Each Thursday around eight of us garden lovers would pile into a mini bus, giggling with excitement in anticipation of a fabulous day of soaking in the glory of a wonderful garden and maybe, if we were lucky, a stop off for a coffee (we always got our coffee!); lunch; op shop; side of the road $2 bag of horse poo; or sometimes even a nursery!  We visited so many gorgeous large gardens all over the state and in a lot of these gardens, dear Miss Cornus kousa was showing off her lacy ball gown, resplendent with the palest greenish tint of colour in the creamy white masses of “flowers” which of course are really “bracts”. Not hard to fall in love with this beauty.

I think C. kousa is best displayed as a specimen tree, standing proud, all on her own. Firstly, during winter in her deciduous state, the unique mottled bark exfoliating in irregular patches to reveal younger tan bark, sets the stage for a wide branching canopy shape. The older the tree becomes, the more the branches grow horizontally, giving the tree a spreading look. These graceful tiered branches sprout oval bright green leaves in spring, followed by drifts of those pretty, large creamy pointed four petalled bracts in late spring, early summer. In autumn we look forward to the bright red strawberry-like inedible berries that wildlife seem to love and the sight of the burning reddish colour of the turning foliage is stunning. Something for every season and highly ornamental.

When it comes to planting dogwoods, it all begins with the soil. Like most dogwoods, the C. kousa enjoys a spot with well drained rich moist soil in full sun to partial shade. It will, of course, flower best in a sunny position. Leaf scorch can occur in sites with full sun combined with hot winds and we don’t want that! Best to think smart and give your tree a sheltered spot in which to hunker down and be happy.

Cornus kousa trees are not very drought tolerant, so make sure to maintain a regular watering regime to keep the soil moist throughout the summer, especially in the first three years when the tree is establishing itself. Your tree will thank you for some mulch to retain moisture and lower the soil temperature in summer. There really are no serious insect or disease problems with this plant of the week – another plus!

With appropriate care and well thought out location, it is an undemanding plant that requires little effort. From the beautiful inflorescences in the spring to the abundant bright red berries late in the summer, Kousa dogwood trees are an ever-changing, attractive addition to almost any landscaping design. Sadly I can’t fit one into my garden. How fortunate are we though, through Open Gardens Victoria garden openings, that we are given the opportunity to wander through so many glorious gardens, large and small, suburban and in country Victoria, where, if we are lucky, we may get to experience the splendour of Cornus kousa, whichever season we find her flourishing in…..