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Pacific Native Goes Naked All Winter

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Cornus nuttallii is just one of many dogwoods.

The Cornus genus encompasses a fantastic array of plants that include Cornus nuttallii. But, dogwoods ranging from the minute, spreading groundcover C. canadensis to yellow & red, shrubby, twiggy C. sericea. And, the genus includes a number of trees that have been cultivated in landscapes around the world.
Cornus nuttallii

How to tell Cornus nuttallii from other dogwood trees.

When I was in horticulture school, I had to memorize a lot about a lot of plants. I had to learn common names, botanical names, bloom time, size, and much more about each plant. And, often we studied several similar plants at one time. So, I often had to make up crazy stories to keep things straight.

Yes, it’s strange how our brains can work. I can’t just simply memorize facts. Instead, I make up a convoluted, nonsensical story, and suddenly information sticks. But, by doing that, now whenever I see a dogwood tree — especially a Pacific dogwood tree — my brain kicks into gear with the crazy memorizing story tool I made up to learn my dogwoods.

So, how can I tell if a tree is a Cornus nuttallii?

Well, knowing my dogwoods comes down to remembering key IDs I learned in school. And, having that crazy memorizing story to fall back on.

Fair warning: if you read on, you may never look at a dogwood tree quite the same again.

  • First, I confirm the tree is in the dogwood genus. Leaf shape. Spiderweb like threads in torn leaves tell me this.
  • Next, I have to replay my memorization story to determine which species I’m looking at.

Don’t know what genus and species mean or why they matter?

Botanical names really do matter. Common names leave us wondering if we’re all really talking about the same plant. And that can get us in trouble. If you don’t know why botanical names matter and you’d like to learn more about plant Latin names, join our online Academy and we’ll teach you all about plant botanical names and much more.

Okay, so what’s the crazy Cornus nuttallii memorization story?

So, here’s how my brain replays the dogwood differentiation story.
Cornus nuttallii…that’s the one that comes from the Pacific. And the west coast is where all us “nutty” people live. And, this tree is growing in a California forest, so check.

Yeah, nuttallii…okay, and those crazy, nutty people in California well, they run around naked. And, yes, this dogwood has naked buds. That means the flower buds are exposed or “naked” to the elements going into winter.

And, yeah, Cornus nuttallii are the dogwoods that bloom earliest in Spring. So, that makes me think flower power. And flower power reminds me of San Francisco. And, that leads me to thinking of all the nuttii people I love in SF running around naked. Plus, they’ve probably got flowers in their hair.

Don’t even get me started on other stories I’ve made up.

I’m not going to get into how I identify a Cornus florida or Cornus kousa. But, I have given you some pretty good tools for identifying a Pacific dogwood or Cornus nuttallii.

And, whatever the cost, I am pretty good at my plant ID — whatever the cost in getting me there.

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