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Cornus nuttallii Audubon

Pacific Dogwood

Modern name

Cornus nuttallii Audubon


Cynoxylon nuttallii (Audubon) Shafer; Benthamidia nuttallii (Audubon) Moldenke

A deciduous tree up to 50 ft high, rarely 80 to 100 ft in a wild state, but often a shrub; young shoots minutely downy, becoming glabrous. Leaves oval or obovate, tapered at the base, short-pointed, 3 to 5 in. long, 112 to 3 in. wide; downy on both sides, especially beneath; veins in five or six pairs; stalk 14 to 12 in. long. Flowers very small, crowded into a dense head 34 in. across, purple and green; surrounding them is a whorl of four to eight, commonly six, showy bracts which make what is commonly termed the ‘flower’. These bracts are roundish oval or obovate, pointed, and from 112 to 3 in. long, 1 to 2 in. wide, at first creamy, then white flushed with pink. The flower-head is formed the previous autumn, and is not enclosed by the bracts during winter, as in C. florida, but remains exposed, expanding with the bracts in May. Bot. Mag., t. 8311.

Native of western N. America, where it is one of the most beautiful of flowering trees. In autumn, too, it is said to light up the forest by the yellow and scarlet of its decaying leaves. It is undoubtedly the noblest of the cornels, its ‘flowers’ sometimes 6 in. across; unfortunately it is not perfectly adapted to the colder parts of Great Britain, but succeeds in the southern counties. It flowers regularly every summer at Kew, but is not long-lived there. From many other gardens, even where the climate is more favourable than at Kew, there are reports that this species, while apparently in full vigour, suddenly deteriorates and eventually dies, although no more than twenty years or so planted. Perhaps the best proof that it is not well adapted to our climate is that no specimens remotely comparable to those of native trees have been recorded, although it was introduced a century and a quarter ago. This is no reason for not planting it, for it flowers well when quite young. But unless a better form is introduced, it is a species that must be counted as short-lived in British gardens.

C. nuttallii is variable in size of leaf and size of ‘flower’. The leaves are generally from 225 to 5 in. long and 115 to 335 in. wide, but a form is known with leaves 345 to 7 in. long and 135 to 335 in. wide. The inflorescence (‘flower’) varies from 315 to 615 in. across.

From the Supplement (Vol. V)

† cv. ‘Eddiei’. – Leaves variegated with gold. The original plant was found growing wild by the Canadian nurseryman H. M. Eddie (see below) and propagated in his nursery. ‘Gold Spot’, marketed in the USA, is similar, possibly the same clone (Bruce Macdonald, op. cit. infr.).

cv. ‘Portlemouth’. – A selection with unusually large flower-bracts.

† C. ‘Eddie’s White Wonder’. – This hybrid is one of many crosses between C. nuttallii and C. florida (including its pink-bracted form) raised by Henry M. Eddie (d. 1957) in the 1930s and early 1940s in his nursery at Sardis, British Columbia, but all save this were lost when the nursery was flooded in 1948. It was put into commerce around 1955 (Bruce Macdonald, ‘Two Noteworthy Cornus Introductions’, The Garden (Journ. R.H.S.), Vol. 109 (1984), pp. 151-3).

This hybrid has flourished in the Valley Gardens, Windsor Great Park, where there are now many plants, of which the three oldest were received as a gift from the Wayside Nurseries, Mentor, Ohio, in 1963. At Windsor it has made a large shrub 15 ft high and wide, flowering well every May and giving fine autumn colour. The younger plants were propagated by soft-wooded cuttings taken in July and potted the following spring (John Bond, ‘Some North American Dogwoods at Windsor’, The Garden (Journ. R.H.S.), Vol. 109 (1984), pp. 154-5). ‘Eddie’s White Wonder’ received an Award of Merit in 1972 and a First Class Certificate in 1977. The raiser was posthumously awarded the Reginald Cory Memorial Cup for it in 1973.

Whereas ‘Eddie’s White Wonder’ was the result of a deliberate cross, hybrids of the same parentage have been sent out by nurseries for more than half a century as C. nuttallii and were no doubt raised originally from seed of that species in collections where C. florida was also grown. There is a fine clump of such a hybrid near the Main Gate at Kew, grown as C. nuttallii until identified by John Bond as very similar to ‘Eddie’s White Wonder’ and now bearing the clonal name ‘Ormonde’. The origin of these plants is unrecorded, but there is another slightly different example of this cross at Kew by the steps under King William’s Temple, which came from Messrs Chenault of Orléans in 1925. It is portrayed, as C. nuttallii, in Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 97, fig. 12 (1972), at the early stage when the bracts are almost primrose-yellow.

Flowering abundantly in May and giving good autumn colour, ‘Ormonde’ is further proof that C. nuttallii × C. florida is better adapted to the British climate than either parent. Two propagations of ‘Ormonde’ from Kew were given to the Crown Estate Commissioners in 1960 (as C. nuttallii) and are now 18 ft high and wide in the Valley Gardens and Savill Garden, Windsor Great Park.

It is very likely that some plants in gardens received as C. nuttallii, both in this country and on the continent, are really its hybrid with C. florida. The matter was discussed by the late Dr Gerd Krüssmann in Deutsche Baumschule, 1972, No. 1, p. 2 and 1977, No. 12, pp. 394-5. He remarked that there were two plants in the Dortmund Botanic Garden, of which he was for many years Curator, which he believed to be this hybrid, both received as C. nuttallii. One came from Messrs Hillier and the other from a German nursery whose stock plants had been raised from seeds received from the Arnold Arboretum. Such plants can be distinguished from the true C. nuttallii by the mostly four-bracted inflorescence (the bracts notched at the apex, at least in ‘Ormonde’), the more bushy, spreading habit and the excellent autumn colour in shades of red.



Other species in the genus