Large-leaf dogwood, or Cornus macrophylla, is the third in a series of five plants showcased in UBC Botanical Garden’s newly-released book: The Jade Garden – New and Notable Plants from Asia.
It is difficult to successfully introduce trees that appear diminished in some respect to more spectacular relatives. Among tree aficionados, for example, Cornus kousa (Japanese dogwood) and Cornus controversa (giant or table dogwood) are currently acknowledged as the most desirable dogwoods for general planting in Western gardens. Both are relatively problem free and exceptionally attractive trees: C. kousa for its long-lasting blooms and striking, starburst habit, among myriad other superb qualities, and C. controversa primarily for its stunning, frosted wedding cake looks. While it is nearly impossible to identify serious shortcomings for either tree, it must be admitted that neither is small after 20 or 30 years or easily accommodated on a typical residential lot. Large-leaf dogwood, however, is well suited to such a situation and one never tires of its subtle good looks.
Large-leaf dogwood forms a small, often low-branched or multistemmed tree, usually no more than 8 or 10m in height when grown in the open in gardens. The species is known to top 20m in the wild, but such plants would have been heavily shaded and very old. In cultivation, branching is much like that of Cornus controversa (table dogwood), with strongly upright stems and horizontal tiers of branches. Each branch terminates with a handful of curving, shortly ascending twigs with prominent pointed buds. The grey-brown bark is smooth and attractively mottled in youth, eventually becoming plate-like with age.
True to its name, the leaves of Cornus macrophylla are large (about 17cm long by 12cm wide), and handsome, with prominent veins and slightly wavy edges. They are often creased down the midrib, making the lighter coloured underside visible. Creamy white flowers are individually tiny, but borne in broad, flattened corymbs at the tips of the branches. Blooming in June or July, they are highly visible against the fully expanded leaves. Once flowering has finished, small (6mm) blue-black drupes form; cross-pollination is usually a prerequisite for fruit development.