Kousa Dogwood vs. Flowering Dogwood: How Different Are They?

Dogwood trees make a beautiful addition to any yard, garden, or landscaped space. But choosing which species to plant may be difficult. There are just so many lovely options. So, this article takes a deeper look at the kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) and the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida).

We explore the unique characteristics of each, how you can tell them apart, and their specific growing requirements. That way, you can feel confident in identifying which beautiful species you are passing on a walk or deciding which to plant.

Kousa Dogwood vs. Flowering Dogwood: Comparison

The table below briefly looks at how the kousa and flowering dogwood are alike (or different) in several important categories.

Kousa Dogwood Flowering Dogwood
Scientific Classification Cornus kousa
(updated from Benthamia japonicaBenthamia kousaCynoxylon kousa)
Cornus florida 
(updated from Benthamidia floridaCynoxylon floridum var. pendulum)
Common Name(s) Chinese Dogwood; Kousa Dogwood Flowering Dogwood
Origins Japan, Korea, and China Southeastern Canada; eastern North America; eastern Mexico
Habitat Fairly forgiving and grows in most habitats. Some areas of the midwest and northeast are excluded. Margins and edges of woodlands. Requires full sun to partial shade (except in hotter environments).
Description Reaches 30-feet tall upon maturity. They start out conical in shape, ultimately branching out into a rounded, wide shape. The bark takes on a mottled texture, thanks to its propensity to peel. Woody, deciduous tree with hard, dense and broken bark. They can reach between 20 and 40 feet high when mature.
Fruit The berries are reddish and pink. They look slightly like raspberries and appear in the late summer/early fall. Birds and small mammals love the sweet drupes. The bright red fruit grows throughout the fall and winter. Wildlife (such as birds) love feeding on it.
Flowers They flower in March and those flowers each have multiple carpels with four to 15 stamens. The flowers are green and surrounded by white petal-like bracts. Beloved by butterflies and bees. Petal-like bracts that bloom in the spring, beginning in April. They vary in color, including reds, whites, and pinks.
Growing Notes Slow to grow and develop. It prefers full sun, but will tolerate occasional shade in the afternoon. Likes well-draining, acidic and loamy soil. Highly resistant to pests and diseases. Difficult to incorporate into landscaped areas. Well-drained soil, neutral to acidic pH levels. Prefer full to partial sun exposure.
Fun Facts Changes its appearance as it ages. It is the state flower of North Carolina.

Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) and flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) belong to the same family – Cornaceae (dogwood). Though they each produce beautiful red fruit, that is where the similarities end. The trees are far more different than they are alike.

Though there are many categories where they differ, the primary ones include their origins, habitat, overall description, flowers, and growing requirements. Continue reading to learn more about each of these differences.

dogwood tree blooming
Dogwoods are beautiful flower trees that can be found around the world.

Kousa Dogwood vs. Flowering Dogwood: Origins

Kousa dogwood is native to parts of Asia, namely China, Japan, and Korea. However, flowering dogwood calls the eastern edges of Canada, the U.S., and Mexico home.

Kousa Dogwood vs. Flowering Dogwood: Habitat

These two species prefer markedly different habitats. The kousa dogwood will happily grow in most environments. But it does not like the extreme weather often found in the midwest and northeastern regions.

In contrast, the flowering dogwood much prefers wooded areas. You will most often find it on the margins and edges of woodlands.

Kousa Dogwood vs. Flowering Dogwood: Description

Identifying the kousa dogwood is fairly straightforward, thanks to the mottled appearance of its bark. As the tree grows (especially in diameter), its bark peels away to allow room for that growth. It results in fissures forming along the bark. These fissures lead to a multi-colored appearance.

On the other hand, flowering dogwood trees have thick, hard, and dense bark covering their trunks. It has deep ridges that sometimes get described as resembling alligator skin.

Additionally, the kousa dogwood grows quite tall, reaching upwards of 30 feet high. And much of that height is due to the branches stretching upward rather than out. This growth gives the trees an almost vase-like appearance.

And the flowering dogwood typically grows a little shorter, around 20 feet. However, it can reach up to 40 feet in height when grown in ideal conditions.

Kousa Dogwood vs. Flowering Dogwood: Flowers

Despite its name, the flowering dogwood is not the only species in the Cornaceae family that produces magnificent flowers. The kousa dogwood displays stunning flowers each spring. The flowers themselves are green, and each has multiple carpels and stamens. White bracts that have a petal-like appearance surround them. And the result is a large, beautiful floral display.

The flowering dogwood is known for its petal-like bracts that bloom later in the spring and attract plenty of butterflies and bees. They put on a lovely show with their mixture of colors. You may see whites, reds, or pinks on flowering dogwood trees.

Kousa Dogwood vs. Flowering Dogwood: Growing Requirements

Kousa Dogwood grows well in more open environments, as opposed to the wooded areas preferred by the flowering dogwood. If you wish to plant it in an area that receives shade, select a location with shade in the afternoon.

The kousa dogwood thrives in acidic, well-draining soil but it cannot survive overly moist or boggy conditions. It is more resilient in the face of drought and significantly more disease and pest-resistant than the flowering dogwood. It is also slightly deer resistant. So you can plant it in your yard with confidence!

Use caution when transplanting. This tree has a shallower root system and is more susceptible to transplant shock. Aim to transplant it in the early spring.

Flowering Dogwood is not the easiest plant to cultivate. It has specific growing requirements that can be difficult to achieve in landscaped areas. It loves well-draining soil rich in organic matter. Additionally, the soil should be in a neutral to acidic pH range.

Keep your flowering dogwood happy by adding a thick layer of mulch around the base. Plan on a layer roughly 2-4” deep. Once your flowering dogwood gets established, it is remarkably heat tolerant. But it grows best in USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9.

The flowering dogwood is susceptible to many pests (such as leafhoppers) and diseases (like powdery mildew).

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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are the kousa dogwood or flowering dogwood trees messy?

No, neither dogwood tree is messy in general. But kousa dogwood trees drop fruit on the ground at the end of the season. So, if you want to add a tree to your yard or garden but would prefer less plant debris, opt for flowering dogwood.

Where can I plant kousa dogwood and flowering dogwood trees?

Kousa dogwood trees are ubiquitous and can grow in nearly every part of the United States (except for some colder states). They are also pretty resilient if they have decent soil for their roots.

However, flowering dogwood trees are a bit more touchy. They grow best in USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9 and require specific conditions to thrive. For that reason, they can be challenging to grow. But, if you are game to try, plant them in rich, well-draining soil and provide ample mulch.

What are the key characteristics of the kousa dogwood and flowering dogwood trees?

Kousa dogwood trees are known for the interesting texture of their bark. The bark expands and peels as the trees grow, exposing fresh, lighter-colored bark underneath.

Flowering dogwood trees are primarily known for their gorgeous floral display each spring.

Can you eat the fruit from either the kousa dogwood or flowering dogwood trees?

Berries from the kousa dogwood tree are edible and have a similar flavor profile to that of persimmons. The outer rind is bitter, though. So it typically gets discarded in favor of the sweet inner flesh.

But the reports vary when it comes to flowering dogwood berries. They are not toxic but have left rashes on exposed skin. Some people say the berries are poisonous, but there is not much research to back that claim up.

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