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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Wednesday - July 06, 2011

From: Bond Head, ON
Region: Canada
Topic: Plant Identification, Trees
Title: Mystery tree in Ontario
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

I found a tree (similar to an apple tree in blossom) in a shaded area by a stream on our property. I have never seen anything like it. It is again, like an apple branch with the blossoms, however, the blossoms are white, trillium like in shape with a yellow centre, the size of a quarter. Do you know what this would be? I cut some branches and the blossoms have lived and not wilted.

ANSWER:

This is a really intriguing question and has me baffled because of the somewhat conflicting information you have provided.

Plants are grouped in families because of the similarity of their flowers and apple trees (as well as plums, pears, peaches, cherries, hawthorns and mountain ash) are members of the rose family.  Their flowers are all single, five petalled, with a cluster of upright stamens in the centre.  Not anything like a trillium.

Although you are out of its native range as it is a tree of the Carolinian forest and you are situatued in the Eastern Deciduous Forest Region, I am wondering if it could be Cornus florida (Flowering dogwood).  The "flower" petals are as striking and clear white as a trillium, but there are 4, not three and they are blunt, not pointed like the trillium.  The Chinese Kousa Dogwood is similar but with pointed petals.  It is hardier than and flowers later than Cornus florida (in June).  Both dogwoods produce berries the birds love, but the kousa's berries are too large for the beaks of most of our migrating songbirds.  That hasn't stopped the tree from naturalizing in New York State.  So it is not out out of the question that you would find it in your woods.

The description of where you found the tree is more typical of the dogwoods than apple trees and it's relatives as well.  Other than its iconic flower, the most notable characteristic of Cornus florida is it's sympodial branching pattern, which leads to a somewhat horizontal and graceful form.

Follow the link to the detailed information page (with images) and let us know if we have guessed right. If not, we recommend you submit a photo to one of the plant identification forums we recommend.  We also recommend you obtain a copy of Linda Kershaw's informative and well organized book, Trees of Ontario to help you with tree identification. It is available in bookstores, at amazon.ca and even some Canadian Tire stores.

 

From the Image Gallery


Flowering dogwood
Cornus florida

Flowering dogwood
Cornus florida

Flowering dogwood
Cornus florida

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