Every year for at least five, I've been waiting for my Kousa Dogwood to display seedpods. This year, it finally happened.
I bought the little stick of a plant about eight years ago from an annual plant sale and immediately put it in the ground near the house where I could easily see it from a window. Every year, I waited for the typical dogwood flowers to appear. All of the photos I've seen of other people's Kousa Dogwoods portray a late spring flush that covers the shrub so tightly, hardly any leaves can be seen. Kousa blooms a little later than traditional dogwoods.
Every spring I wondered when my plant would start forming flowers, and then last year it happened. It didn't start completely covered. I think I counted four, maybe six, large white blossoms near the top of the plant. They were nice, but I didn't buy this plant for its flowers.
I like spring because it means the end of what always seems to be a long winter, but fall is my favorite season, and that is the reason I bought the Kousa. After flowering in spring, the flowers form puffy, green seedpods that by late August begin to turn red.
The first time I saw a red Kousa seedpod, I was in a classroom. Our instructor brought in several specimens from his own yard that very morning.
''Identify these,'' he said.
I, along with with the rest of the students, walked around the tables where he had placed pine boughs, spruce branches, birch twigs and a rather large piece of a stem from a Kousa Dogwood. Some of the others knew what this was, but it was foreign to me, and I was fascinated by the pods that looked surprisingly like strawberries.
I've been picking strawberries long enough to know they don't grow on trees and when the plant was identified later in the class, I wrote down its name, promising myself I would have one someday.
So here I was, waiting every year for my own Kousa Dogwood to produce those strawberry-like seedpods. When I saw a half-dozen flowers that spring, I tried not to get my hopes up there would be seedpods by fall. There wasn't. Maybe next year, I told myself.
This spring the shrub, which has grown over the years from the small stick it once was to more than six feet in height, still
wasn't covered with flowers, but there were more than the year before. I counted about two dozen this time, once again near the top of the shrub. A few weeks after the flowers faded and the petals dropped to the ground, I noticed the seedpods forming. All summer I watched as they puffed up into small heart-shaped containers. Then just a few days ago I noticed the lightest tinge of red starting to spread over a few of the pods. It was happening. This is the season I will look out at the Kousa Dogwood in my front yard and see red seedpods against a dreary, winter sky.
Kousa Dogwood, or Cornus kousa, is an Asian variety of shrub, also commonly called Japanese Dogwood and Chinese Dogwood. The white flowers are not really flowers but bracts, which are modified leaves. The true flowers are pale green and insignificant in the center of the bracts, like poinsettias.
The fruit, which are the seedpods that to me look like small strawberries although some have described them as raspberries are edible. I've never tasted Kousa Dogwood fruit, but birds love them, and I'll leave mine for their enjoyment.
Since my plant is expected to grow 15 to 20 feet tall, I'm toying with pruning it as a standard rather than let it grow as a shrub with branches to the ground. I haven't made a final decision yet as my cat loves to sleep beneath the branches in summer.
If you're thinking of buying a Kousa Dogwood for your landscape, wait until spring. They are a little sensitive about being planted in the fall, probably because they don't have enough time to get established before winter. Instead, spend this winter choosing a good site, keeping in mind they prefer moist, well drained soil and partial sun. My shrub gets a lot of afternoon sun, but is mostly shaded in the morning.
Kousa Dogwood drops its leaves in the fall, but with their spring color, summer fullness, lovely fall leaves and red winter seedpods, it is definitely a four-season plant.