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Cornus x Rutgan – Stellar Pink Dogwood

Categories:For the Shade Garden Trees

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Stellar Pink Dogwood (Cornus x Rutgan) was developed at Rutgers University (more about that later). What strikes me most are the delicately colored flowers of the softest pink and white. It is a hybrid between our native flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) and the Japanese dogwood (Cornus kousa).

I live in Georgia. We see lots of dogwoods. Stellar Pink takes my breath away.

Stellar Pink dogwood
Stellar Pink dogwood is a hybrid of Cornus florida and Cornus kousa.

Similar to the redbud (Cercis canadensis), our native flowering dogwood blooms before leaves appear. The Japanese dogwood blooms after the leaves appear. There are subtle differences in the leaves between the two species, but most people associate the main difference in whether the tree blooms before (flowering dogwood – Cornus florida) or after  (Japanese dogwood – Cornus kousa) leaves unfurl.

The flowers on Stellar Pink dogwood bloom after the leaves appear, a clear indicator Japanese dogwood is a parent. To my eyes, Stellar Pink’s flowers are softer and more refined than the pink dogwood (Cornus florida rubra).

Description & Care of Stellar Pink Dogwood
Dogwoods are small understory trees, and Stellar Pink is no exception. It can be expected to grow to 20′-25′ tall with a similar spread at maturity. Rutgers University reports that the original Stellar Pink dogwood was 23′ at twenty years of age. It is hardy to USDA zone 6. Growth habit is somewhat upright.

Dogwoods do fine in full sun to partial shade, but will not bloom well in heavy shade. Dogwoods bloom on old wood (last season’s growth), so prune Stellar Pink no later than June. In general, trees should be pruned for form and health. Pruning limbs that cross or rub is a good idea. Do not prune trees to limit size, as you will only ruin the form and the tree will outgrow your efforts.

stellar pink dogwood - cornus rutgan
Stellar pink dogwood was developed at Rutgers University.

Stellar Pink Dogwood and the Rutgers Dogwood Breeding Program

According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, Stellar Pink was issued a patent in 1990. Led by Dr. Elwin Orton, the research into dogwoods at Rutgers was a response to concern in the 1970’s about the future of the American dogwood (Cornus florida). Dogwood anthracnose and the dogwood borer were seen as dangerous to the future of our native dogwood.

Dr. Orton and Rutgers were pioneers in attempts to develop dogwoods that were able to withstand the attacks of various pests and diseases. Rutgers focused their efforts on cross-breeding Cornus florida with the Japanese dogwood (Cornus kousa).

Stellar Pink is one of the results of Rutgers’ breeding program. It is part of the ‘Stellar’ series of dogwoods, selected for disease resistance and vigor. The Rutgers University website has more information about Rutgers’ dogwood breeding efforts.

There is also a variegated version of Stellar Pink. The leaves have margins of white. Considering that the effect of Stellar Pink’s soft pink flowers is heightened by the dark green foliage, in all cases I would choose the original Stellar Pink dogwood over the newer variegated version.


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