Great Plant Pick: Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’

The variegated giant dogwood’s leaves makes it look like white frosting is spread over the branches.

The variegated giant dogwood’s leaves makes it look like white frosting is spread over the branches. (Richie Steffen)

The variegated giant dogwood’s leaves makes it look like white frosting is spread over the branches. (Richie Steffen)

What: Variegated giant dogwood — or wedding cake tree, as it is sometimes called — can be summed up in one word: spectacular. (The Latin name is Cornus controversa “Variegata.”) Although often awkward-looking in youth, these “ugly ducklings” become swans as they mature. The branches of this tree are held out in horizontal tiers with brightly variegated leaves, giving the appearance of snow-white frosting spread over the branches. In May, this dogwood produces delicate, lacy white flowers that are followed in late summer by deep black berries. The berries glisten against the variegated leaves and are a favorite of birds.

Where: Plant this striking tree in a moist, well-drained soil with light or open shade. It can be adaptable to sandy soils and clay. As it is noted for its beautifully layered, low branches, it should be planted where it has plenty of room to spread.

Size: This spreading tree grows to be 35 feet tall and 25 feet wide when mature.

Care: It requires regular watering during dry weather. The lovely layered form can easily be ruined by pruning. Consult an experienced pruner or take local classes before attempting to prune.

— Richie Steffen, Great Plant Picks

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