Dogwood Tree Leaves: Easy Identification Trick (And Why They Curl)

Close in image of dogwood tree leaves showing the green leaves tightly connected to branches on a dogwood tree in a oval frame.

The genus, Cornus, consists of 30-60 species of dogwood trees or shrubs, and the easily identifiable dogwood tree leaves are some of the most recognizable leaves in the world.

Did you know that pioneers used the twigs of dogwood trees to brush their teeth? Native Americans brewed tea from the bark of dogwood trees to treat ailments such as fever and pain. And US soldiers also used dogwood tree leaves to protect and cover wounds.

So.. knowing how to recognize dogwood leaves and trees certainly came in handy a few hundred years ago. These days, dogwoods are prized as an ornamental tree that fit easily into a number of growing zones.

The trees produce delicately lovely flowers in the spring and rich red berries in the fall, but if you have some dogwood trees in your yard with curling leaves, you may wonder what’s wrong.

This complete guide explains how to recognize dogwood tree leaves, and also how to pinpoint any diseases, problems or pests that may trigger the ‘curling’ of dogwood leaves.

Dogwood Tree Leaves: Easy Way To Identify

Dogwood tree leaves grow in opposite arrangements and sprout in pairs from one leaf node.

However, some dogwood tree leaves aren’t aligned as perfectly as the others, and this arrangement is known as the sub-opposite.2

Read More About: Cottonwood Tree Leaf: How to Spot a Cottonwood (All 4 Types) & Eat Them

You can also recognize the leaves by the size and color.

Identification: Dogwood Tree Leaves

Dogwood tree leaves are wide oval, that comes to a point, with smooth edges.

Close up of Red osier dogwood leaves on thin branches.

(Image: Joshua Ralph24)

Some additional facts include:

  • Dogwood trees have no leaves during the winter season.11
  • Dogwood tree leaves are bright green in summer and have visible veins that curve in a parallel fashion toward the edges. Some dogwood tree leaves contain pale shades of white or yellow.
  • The tips of dogwood tree leaves are pointed and the leaf itself grows to a length of between 3 and 6 inches.3

How Can I Tell a Dogwood Tree?

It is easy to tell whether a tree is a dogwood tree by looking at the leaves. Dogwood tree leaves have smooth edges and curved veins. Some dogwood trees, such as the flowering dogwood, have large bracts.

Closeup of dogwood tree leaf buds with hues of red, green, and yellow.

(Image: KOOBONSIL25)

Dogwood trees also produce drupes (fruits) that are mainly consumed by wildlife (such as squirrels) and birds.

Dogwood tree bark is often scaly and peeling and dogwood tree flowers are white or pink.

What Do the Leaves of a Flowering Dogwood Tree Look Like in Summer?

The most common question asked about a flowering dogwood tree is, what do the leaves of a flowering dogwood tree look like in summer?

Dogwood tree leaf identification chart with images of pacific dogwood leaf, kausa dogwood leaf, wedding cake dogwood leaf, cornelian dogwood leaf, and flowering dogwood leaf in circle frames.

Flowering dogwood tree leaves are bright green during the summer months and have a paler shade of green on the underside.

Do Dogwood Trees Lose Their Leaves Early in the Fall?

Another common question about dogwood tree leaves is, do dogwood trees lose their leaves early in the fall?

A Dogwood Tree showing its red leaves in fall.

Dogwood trees commonly lose their leaves in mid to late fall. Should leaf drop occur during the summer, there could be disease or cultivation issues.

Picture of Dogwood Tree Leaves

One of the most popular dogwood trees is the flowering dogwood. This video identifies the leaves of the flowering dogwood and highlights its most recognizable features,13 by providing an up-close look at a picture of dogwood tree leaves.

What Do Dogwood Berries Look Like?

There are several other questions surrounding dogwood trees, for instance, what do dogwood berries look like?

Dogwood berries known as drupes, grow to about half an inch in length and are red in color.14 These berries grow in clusters of 3 to 6 berries and are a wildlife favorite.

Closeup of Dogwood tree berries in fall showing its small red-skinned berries.

There are some theories as to why animals and birds are drawn to dogwood berries:

  • Migratory birds require energy-filled meals while traveling to their winter destinations. These berries fill the requirement and provide the nourishment birds need to keep them going on their long journeys.
  • Dogwood berries consist of high percentages of fat and calcium, which makes them a valuable food option for wildlife and birds.

Around 75 different types of animal species are known to consume these berries, and over 80 species of birds also snack on dogwood berries.4

What Does Dogwood Tree Bark Look Like?

The question is also often asked, what does dogwood tree bark look like?

Dogwood tree bark is sometimes compared to alligator skin, because of its peeling, tan/gray shades. This scale-like appearance is the main identifying factor of dogwood tree bark.5

Read More About: Pros and Cons of Redbud Trees

Types of Dogwood

There are an estimated 24 different types of dogwood trees, and more than 130 cultivars.

Seventeen types of dogwood trees are native to the US. These are as follows:

Types of DogwoodHeight of TreeUSDA Growing Zone
Flowering Dogwood15-25 feetZones 5-9
Sweetwater Red Dogwood1020-35 feetZones 5a-7a
Pacific Dogwood15-40 feetZones 6b-9a
Cornelian Cherry Dogwood20-25 feetZones 5-8
Canadian Bunchberry (subshrub)6-12”Zones 2-6
Common Dogwood5-15 feet (some species include dwarf cultivars)Zones 4-7
Gray Dogwood10-27 feetZones 4-8
Mountain Dogwood30-40 feetZones 7-9
Pagoda Dogwood15-25 feetZones 3-7
Close up image of a Flowering Dogwood tree with its buds and twigs

(Image: Denise Davis32)

Types of DogwoodHeight of TreeUSDA Growing Zone
Red Twig Dogwood6-9 feetZones 3-7
Rough Leaf Dogwood6-15 feetZones 5-8
Brown Dogwood5-15 feetZones 7-10
Stiff Dogwood10-25 feetZones 6-10
Swedish Cornel Dogwood (subshrub)2-9”Zone 2
Red Osier Dogwood7-10 feetZones 3-8
Creeping Dogwood10-20cmZones 2-7
Silky Dogwood6-12 feetZones 5-81
Close up image of a Red Twig Dogwood tree with its green broad leaves and red stem.

(Image: Dan Keck31)

Interesting Facts About Dogwood Trees

In addition to being a staple for wildlife and birds, there are a wide variety of interesting facts about dogwood trees:

  • It is believed that the wood of a dogwood tree was used to make the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified.
  • The bark of dogwood trees is believed to be beneficial in the treatment of malaria and mange.
  • Farmers in the US are known to wait for the dogwood blooming season to be over because they start planting crops (corn in particular).15
  • During Victorian times, men would offer unmarried women the blossoms from a dogwood tree. If the woman returned the blossoms, it meant they were not interested, but if they kept the blossoms, it signaled requited love.
  • The branches of many dogwood trees seem to change color in bright sunlight and shade. In direct sunlight, the branches take on a crimson hue, while in the shade they seem to be bright green.
  • Dogwood tree roots are used to make different dyes, including red, yellow, and black. By mixing the roots of dogwood trees with other dye-producing plants, more colors can be created.
  •  Because the wood from dogwood trees is shock resistant and strong, it is often used to manufacture canes, tool handles, and golf club heads.

Dogwood Tree Leaves

The condition of dogwood tree leaves is a good indicator of the health of the tree. For instance, if a dogwood tree receives insufficient water, its outermost leaves will either drop or become scorched.

Dogwood Tree Leaves Curling

Dogwood tree leaves curling is a sign of the leaves burning in full sun.16 While leaf scorch doesn’t usually kill a dogwood tree, it can severely weaken it.

It is best to plant a dogwood tree in partial shade and ensure sufficient watering during the summer months.

Why Are the Leaves on This Dogwood Tree Curling Up? (Dogwood Tree Leaves Curling)

One of the most asked questions about drooping leaves on a dogwood tree is, why are the leaves on this dogwood tree curling up?

In addition to leaf scorch, dogwood tree leaves will start curling up in response to powdery mildew. Powdery mildew is also the cause of leaves turning yellow or brown.17,6

What Is the Difference Between a Dogwood Tree and a Dogwood Bush?

There are different types of dogwood trees and different types of dogwood shrubs. For this reason, the question is often asked – what is the difference between a dogwood tree and a dogwood bush?

Low-angle shot of dogwood tree with full of yellow and white flowers with blue sky in the background.

(Image: Laura Ockel26)

The main difference between a dogwood tree and a dogwood bush is the flowering phase. A dogwood tree boasts stunning bracts during the spring season, while a dogwood shrub is mainly grown for its color during the winter season.

How Do You Know if Your Dogwood Tree Is Getting Too Much Water?

Those who prefer planting dogwood trees as part of residential landscapes, may be asking: How do you know if your dogwood tree is getting too much water?

There are many signs of overwatering, including the following:

  • Root Rot – This occurs when overwatering causes the air to be expelled from the soil. Root decay is evident by drooping leaves or leaf scorch.
  • Unusual Leaf Color – When dogwood tree leaves turn light green or dull yellow, this is usually an indication of overwatering.
  • Powdery Mildew – White, powdery substances on dogwood tree leaves might indicate the presence of powdery mildew. This type of fungus thrives in wet conditions and causes curling leaves.7

What Should You Do if Your Dogwood Leaves Begin To Show Canker Spots?

Canker is a serious fungal disease in Cornus species. There are three main types of canker (fungal diseases) that affect dogwood trees, namely dogwood anthracnose, powdery mildew, and spot anthracnose.

  • Curbing canker relies on the following factors:
  • Choosing disease-resistant dogwood trees
  • Watering the roots and not the leaves
  • Pruning regularly and discarding dead twigs and leaves
  • Removing trees already infected with canker, to avoid the spread of disease to nearby trees and plants.
  • Applying fungicides

How Do I Know if My Dogwood Tree Is Dying?

The next common question when it comes to caring for a dogwood tree is, how do I know if my dogwood tree is dying?

There are several signs to look out for in an unhealthy dogwood tree:

Severe Leaf Scorch

When dogwood trees are not watered properly or receive too much direct sun, their leaves will turn brown and curl up. It is essential to correct the water situation and provide shade, especially during the hottest times of the day.

Closeup of common dogwood leaves in fall with deep red-purple color and hues of yellow and green.

(Image: Alexandra_Koch27)

If dogwood tree leaves are browning and curling in the shade, they are not receiving enough water.

Overwatering or Underwatering

Water stress causes leaf scorch and wilting leaves. This commonly occurs in transplanted dogwood trees with damaged roots. It is important to take care when transplanting dogwood trees, by managing the fragile root system gently.

Scalding by Direct Sunlight

Scalding occurs due to continuous direct sun exposure, even during winter. Sunscald is identified by a discolored scar on the bark of the dogwood, which causes peeling and is an entranceway for disease and boring insects.

Anthracnose Canker

Anthracnose canker is a deadly fungal disease that occurs mainly in dogwood trees in the eastern regions of Mississippi.18

Anthracnose causes large tan spots on dogwood tree leaves and can eventually cause branches to die off. When branches start dying, it is almost certain that the tree will die too.

It is possible to treat anthracnose canker, but treatment is only effective when applied before the branches start dying. A popular treatment for anthracnose canker is a copper fungicide. This needs to be applied after the removal of diseased stems and twigs from the tree.

Even if it is possible to save the tree, shoots from it should not be transplanted as they may still carry the canker.

Crown Canker

It is essential to prevent crown canker as opposed to trying to treat it. This is because crown canker is almost always fatal for dogwood trees.

Crown canker causes dogwood tree leaves to become lighter and curl around the edges. First, twigs and branches die on one side, and then the fungal disease spreads to the entire tree.

Crown canker causes a dead spot at the bottom of the dogwood, which will eventually completely encircle the tree and kill it.

If crown canker is caught early, it can be cut out along with at least two inches of bark that hasn’t been infected.

Root Rot

Another type of fungal disease that affects dogwood trees is armillaria root rot. This disease also encircles the base of a healthy dogwood tree, causing mushrooms to grow there.

Armillaria root rot cannot be treated, and other dogwood trees shouldn’t be planted in the same area as an infected tree.


Dogwood trees are also commonly affected by the dogwood borer and the flat-headed appletree borer.19 These insects cause wet patches on dogwood tree bark, and the bark will start peeling off.

Once the insects are inside the trunk, pesticides will have no effect.

Healthy dogwoods can live up to 80 years, but because most dogwoods have to compete for nutrients, they usually only live for 30 years.8

How Can I Save a Dogwood Tree?

When it seems that a dogwood tree is already dying, the only question asked is – how can I save a dogwood tree?

There are several ways to try and save a dogwood tree, including the following:

Applying Sufficient Mulch

When excessive evaporation happens, the soil around dogwood trees tends to dry out and crack. This can result in the death of the tree, because of a lack of moisture. To preserve sufficient moisture, mulch can be applied around the base of the tree, taking care to keep it away from the trunk.

Improving Soil Drainage

The soil around dogwood trees shouldn’t drain water too fast because this will result in dryness that could lead to the death of the tree.

Adding clay soil to the existing soil will promote slower water drainage.

If, however, the soil tends to retain too much water, especially during the rainy season, it is best to mix the soil with sandy soil which promotes high drainage.

If none of these measures have the desired effect on saving a dogwood tree,20 the tree can be transplanted in soil with the correct pH and proper drainage, usually on a slope.

Proper Pruning

If a dogwood tree is dying because of anthracnose canker, it becomes more difficult to save it.

It might help to prune the diseased branches and leaves, as the disease is spread by water splashing over them – one to another.

It is also essential to spray the pruned parts of the dogwood tree with insecticide to prevent a recurrence.

Using Pesticides

If there are noticeable holes in the branches or trunk of a dogwood tree, it is likely caused by borer insects.

Pesticides might be effective if the insect infestation is caught early. However, if the tree is beyond saving, the best course of action is to uproot it and burn it, to prevent the pests from spreading to other trees and plants.21

Borer insects are also known to hide inside the soil; therefore, it is best to transplant the remaining trees and plants to a healthy location.

Improving the pH of the Soil

The best type of soil for dogwood trees has a pH of 5.5 to 7.0.

If the soil is too alkaline, dogwood tree leaves will turn a shade of yellow which means it photosynthesis process isn’t working effectively. A lack of photosynthesis will cause the tree to die.

If adding fertilizers does not affect the dying tree in a positive way, it is best to transplant it to a location where the soil has the correct ph.

Moving the Tree to a Shady Location

Dogwood trees that receive too much direct sun, will eventually die. Winter sun, especially, is devastating to dogwood trees.

Eye-level shot of dogwood tree with multiple trunks and blooming pink flowers.

(Image: Franette28)

Trees that are already dying because of too much sun, might be saved by moving them to a shady location.9

Dogwood Tree Diseases

These dogwood tree diseases pictures highlight the effects and symptoms of different diseases and other problems on dogwood trees.22 These diseases include:

  • Powdery Mildew– fungal disease
  • Elsinoe Leaf Spot– fungal disease
  • Leaf Blight– fungal disease
  • Dogwood Anthracnose– fungal disease
  • Leaf Scorch
  • Premature Fall Color
  • Sawfly– pest
  • Canker– fungal disease
  • Dogwood Borer– pest
  • Dogwood Twig Borer– pest
  • Flat-headed Appletree Borer– pest
  • Crown Canker– fungal disease

The following table indicates symptoms that may appear on dogwood trees and the possible causes:23

Symptoms Found on Dogwood TreesPossible Causes
White coating or spots on leavesPowdery mildew
Spots on leaves and flowersElsinoe leaf spot
Blights on leaves and flowersPetal blight
Angular spots on leaves and flowersSeptoria leaf spot
Dark spots on leaves and flowersDogwood anthracnose
Browning leavesHeat stress and leaf scorch
Premature fall colorPowdery mildew, leaf scorch, or heat stress
Chewed leavesDogwood sawfly
Yellowing leaves including honeydewScale (Calico or Cottony Maple scale)
Yellowing leaves with no honeydewOystershell scale
Close up image of a Dogwood tree leaf turning brown

(Image: AnRo000230)

Symptoms Found on Dogwood TreesPossible Causes
Twig dieback with broken twigsDogwood twig borer
Twig dieback with discolored twigsCanker
Twig dieback with green gallsDogwood clubgall midge
Twig dieback with yellow leavesScale
Branch dieback with rough areas on tree trunkDogwood borer
Branch dieback with cracked bark near baseFlatheaded appletree borer
Branch dieback with discolored twigsBranch canker
Branch dieback with peeling bark near the tree baseCrown canker
No flowersWeather or disease
Unhealthy overall appearanceHeat stress, poor location, fungal disease
Close up image of a Dogwood Tree branches and twigs with its dry leaves.

(Image: AnRo000229)

In general, a good indicator of a dogwood tree’s health is the condition of dogwood tree leaves. If the dogwood tree leaves are healthy and in good condition, it is likely that the tree itself is too.

Frequently Asked Questions About Dogwood Tree Leaves

What Are Dogwood Tree Leaves?

Dogwood tree leaves are simple, growing into a single leaf unit. These leaves drop during the winter season which makes them deciduous.

What Is Dogwood Tree Leaf Identification?

Dogwood tree leaves are deep or bright green in color, with smooth edges and pointed tips. They grow to a length of around 6 inches and their visible veins curve to the margins.

What Do Dogwood Tree Leaves in Spring Look Like?

Another question that is usually asked about dogwood trees is,12 what do dogwood tree leaves in spring look like? Dogwood tree leaves retain their beautiful green shade in spring, with the added color of white bracts with flower clusters.

What Do Dogwood Tree Leaves in Fall Look Like?

Dogwood trees are popular landscape options in the US, and the main question about these trees is, what do dogwood tree leaves in fall look like? Dogwood tree leaves turn a brilliant shade of scarlet or reddish-purple during the fall season.


1Myers, V. R. (2022, August 21). 12 Types of Dogwood Trees and Shrubs. The Spruce. Retrieved October 29, 2022, from <>

2Painter, T. (2020, November 17). What Is the Leaf Type of the Flowering Dogwood? Home Guides. Retrieved October 29, 2022, from <>

3Leafy Place. (2022, October 11). Flowering Dogwood Trees and Shrubs: Types, Leaves, Bark – Identification (With Pictures). Leafy Place. Retrieved October 29, 2022, from <>

4Johnson, T. W. (2020, October 22). Out My Backdoor: Dogwood Berries Are a Wildlife Favorite. Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Retrieved October 29, 2022, from <>

5Kongo (2017, November 8). Identifying Dogwood Trees. Instructables Outside. Retrieved October 29, 2022, from <>

6GardenTabs. (2021, June 24). Dogwood Tree Leaves Curling Or Cupping – What To Do? Garden Tabs. Retrieved October 29, 2022, from <>

7Bleakley, T. (2017, September 21). Signs of Over Watering in Dogwood Trees. Garden Guides. Retrieved October 29, 2022, from <>

8Jordan, C. (2021, August 22). Dogwood Tree Dying – What Could Be Wrong? Garden Tabs. Retrieved October 29, 2022, from <>

9Daniel. (2021, June 29). How to Save a Dying Dogwood Tree? Plantophiles. Retrieved October 29, 2022, from <>

10Gilman, E. F., & Watson, D. G. (1993, November). Cornus florida ‘Sweetwater Red’ ‘Sweetwater Red’ Flowering Dogwood. Environmental Horticulture. Retrieved October 29, 2022, from <>

11Wennerberg, S. (2022). Flowering Dogwood- Cornus florida L. USDA National Resources Conservation Service. Retrieved October 29, 2022, from <>

12Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. (2022). Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida). Texas Parks and Wildlife. Retrieved October 29, 2022, from <>

13Extension-Forestry and Natural Resources. (2020, September 24). ID that Tree: Flowering Dogwood. Purdue University. Retrieved October 29, 2022, from <>

14Earth Observatory. (2022, October 29). Flowering Dogwood. NASA Earth Observatory. Retrieved October 29, 2022, from <>

15Iowa State University. (2022). Dogwoods in Iowa. Natural Resource Stewardship. Retrieved October 29, 2022, from <>

16Ophardt, M. C. (2022). Leaf Scorch of Dogwoods. Washington State University. Retrieved October 29, 2022, from <>

17Department of Agriculture. (2022). Dogwood Anthracnose and its Spread in the South. USDA Forest Service. Retrieved October 29, 2022, from <>

18Brazee, N. J. (2019, February). Dogwood Anthracnose. University of Massachusetts Amherst. Retrieved October 29, 2022, from <>

19University of Connecticut. (2022, September 22). The Dogwood Decline. UCONN College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources. Retrieved October 29, 2022, from <>

20Pennisi, B. V. (2009, December). Growing Dogwoods. UGA Extension. Retrieved October 29, 2022, from <>

21Doubrava, N., Scott, J. M., Blake, J. H., Gorsuch, C. S., & Williamson, J. (2021, February 17). Dogwood Diseases & Insect Pests |. Ckemson University – Home & Garden Information Center. Retrieved October 29, 2022, from <>

22University of Maryland. (2022, August 23). Key to Common Problems of Dogwoods. University of Maryland Extension. Retrieved October 29, 2022, from <>

23University of Arkansas. (2018, November 10). Dogwood. University of Arkansas Extension. Retrieved October 29, 2022, from <>

24Joshua Ralph. Unsplash. Retrieved from <>

25KOOBONSIL. Pixabay. Retrieved from <>

26Laura Ockel. Unsplash. Retrieved from <>

27Alexandra_Koch. Pixabay. Retrieved from <>

28Franette. Pixabay. Retrieved from <>

29AnRo0002. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved from <>

30AnRo0002. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved from <>

31Dan Keck. Flickr. Retrieved from <>

32Photo provided by Denise Davis