Canberra’s candyfloss cornus

The cornus or dogwoods were simply amazing in Canberra last week. I have never seen anything quite like them. They do not flower like that here. These trees were a mass of bloom and you could clearly get them in shades of sugar pink to apple blossom pink and or simple white. Viewed close up, they were like stylised paintings in their simplicity. Lovely bark, too.

The blooming season is not long, I was told – measured more in days than weeks of peak bloom. But the sight is so glorious that I did not hear anybody complaining about the short season.

As far as I could make out, they were generally C. florida – or maybe some were hybrids in which case likely crossed with C. nuttallii in order to get bigger flowers. ‘Florida’ means full of flowers, not that it comes from the state of Florida. In fact, it hails from the more north eastern areas.

The cornus or dogwood family is quite large. There seems some debate over how many species, but probably in excess of 50. If you take a swathe across the temperate northern hemisphere areas from China, Korea and Japan over to North America, you take in most of the areas of natural habitat.

Why do we not see cornus looking magnificent here? Too wet. Too mild (lacking a winter chill and summer heat). Too windy. And our native puriri moth appears to wreak havoc on the cornus family. We can grow many things really well here. It is just that cornus is not amongst them.

Cornus kousa flowering in June (so early summer) in England

Cornus kousa from China and Japan appears to be more adaptable than the American species. Our specimen finally succumbed to root rot – we literally pushed it over – but on our June visits to the UK, I have often photographed C. kousa in flower and there are a number of selections that have been named along with hybrids between it and C. florida.

Cornus controversa variegata

It was another cornus – C. controversa or the layered ‘wedding cake tree’ which became a fashion plant in this country in the 1990s. It is likely we can attribute this popularity to one person. The wonderful Irish gardener, Helen Dillon did a lecture tour through the country around that time showing slides of her garden (I am pretty sure we are pre-dating power point here) and she had a terrific specimen of Cornus controversa variegata. Everybody wanted one and even we produced some plants commercially though we never planted one out here. The trouble is that it needs to be in the open and full sun in order to develop the characteristic tiered growth habit but with a white variegation, it can often look a little burned and crispy in our bright, unfiltered sunlight. The light is much softer in southern Ireland.

12 thoughts on “Canberra’s candyfloss cornus

  1. gladlass

    We love Cornus down here! The NZ bred Eddie’s White Wonder is very popular, but others too. Cornus Alba is also grown, in various ways. I like to keep mine in fresh growth which gives me the bright red stems in winter. Anything for a bit of colour in winter!
    Carrie, Arrowtown.

    Sent from my iPad

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Ah, that Central climate – close to Canberra’s dry winter cold and dry summer heat. Yes, they would do well for you there and look just as lovely.

  2. tonytomeo

    Such a traditional Eastern tree. People from the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania really dig them! I like them too, and I used grow them for many years, but I have never seen them growing wild. They actually do not do well in my neighborhood because of the aridity in summer. They get roasted. Yet, the coast is too mild for them. They do better just in between the coast and the inland valleys. They grew well at the farm, and are so pretty against the dark green of the redwoods. Eddies White Wonder gets quite tall!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Really, the only one that does well here is Cornus capitata. So well, in fact, that we regard it as an invasive weed best eradicated! Which is why I have never seen such a wonderful display as those Canberra trees.

      1. tonytomeo

        I never would imagine that any dogwood could be invasive. I know that some do well in their natural environments, but even they are rather docile. The only one that is native here is the redtwig dogwood, Cornus stolonifera. It grows down in the riverbanks, but does not get far from there. It lacks colorful bracts, so does not even look like a dogwood. Some people grow it for the red bare twigs in winter, and cut it down to the ground just before spring. Another native dogwood in Oklahoma does very well, but has small flowers that are not too impressive. It is tough, and happy to grow in weird places, but is not invasive.

      2. Abbie Jury Post author

        Capitata is an Asian variety – a problem in Australia too, I see. The issue where we are is that we have such a gentle, hospitable climate that plants that are deemed to be desirable in other climates are ruled as noxious weeds here – giant gunnera and the charming little erigeron daisy being just two examples.

      3. tonytomeo

        When we were in school, I remember learning that where the Tasmanian bluegum is native, the Monterey pine from here has naturalized, just like the Tasmanian bluegum has naturalized where the Monterey pine is native here.

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