I’ll never admire a city dogwood again


These trees are near a former homestead that has been preserved.

Not after last week’s trip to the Great Smokies National Park and nearby Tennessee towns. Here, they are thriving at the edges of the forest, set off by Eastern hemlocks, tulip poplars, and other, much taller trees. Sure, dogwoods are not rare trees—we have plenty in WNY, including a lot of Kouzas in the city—but they have never taken my breath away as they did last week. The dogwoods around here don’t burst forth as they do farther south.


I didn’t even bother looking at the bulbs that were up when I got back home—it was daylight, but it was also snowing. (Just an ephemeral dusting, but still.) Never mind that. Check out these trilliums—grandiflorum and luteum—found along the Roaring Forks nature trail. There were also showy orchis (galearis spectabilis), cardamine, and other flowers I can’t ID from the resources I have.


Though it’s impossible to reproduce the subtle beauties one finds in a place like this in a home garden, I was struck by how we were followed by water wherever we went. Done well, water can make a garden work. The sound provides a (to me) necessary background.


In my region we generally think of trillium as the first indigenous flower of spring. Which is yours?

(Here's the showy orchis–living up to its name.)

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. Guess we were doing the same thing last week, Elizabeth -I was admiring the dogwoods in North Carolina while you were doing the same in the Great Smokies. Such a beautiful place.

  2. Welcome to my world 🙂
    Next time, if you really want to see a vast array of wildflowers, come on down to the southern Blue Ridge escarpment. The diversity here will blow your mind. Also worth mentioning is the spring color season… the leaves emerging from the trees produce a soft palette of color every bit as beautiful as that of fall.
    Oh, and here, the hepatica and shortia are up and blooming way before the trillium wakes up!

  3. I will echo Kay. The hepatica, spring beauty, toothworts and many violets come well before the trilliums and the hills are alive with the white of dogwood. Portions of my home garden do look like this including the poisoned ivy to the right of the yellow trillium. It’s just a short 45 minute drive away from where you took these photos.

  4. Toothworts, spurred violets, spring beauties are dainty but redbuds and dogwoods are in your face. Love KY in the spring!

  5. Hepaticas are always first in my garden. Even with our weather that continues more wintry than spring-like. My sessile Trilliums are up but my yellow has not yet broken through the ground.

  6. Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is the first wildflower I notice around here. Skunk cabbage may be blooming too, but I haven’t bothered to go looking.

    (Assuming that the weeds in my garden are European or Asian imports).

  7. Oh yes the Bloodroot. It’s hard to keep track of all that blooms in the deciduous forest floor. The larkspur should be blooming now. Last year I missed the showy orchis by a couple days. Now that I know where they are, I hope to capture them on digital pixels.

  8. Probably not a fair question for those of us who live in California, as spring, or the first new growth initiated by the fall rains, actually begins in the winter season here. Right along the coast, with the higher humidity and limited evapotranspiration, wildflowers can actually be in bloom year round, such as some of the Dudleyas. Further inland, I’d hazard a guess that some of our native Ribes, such as R. sanguineum v. glutinosum may be the first to bloom, often in late December or early January. Not really a flower, but the new buds bursting forth on the California Buckeye, Aesculus californica, seem precious and precocious unfurling in late January, when the first Miner’s Lettuce can also be seen blooming. by this time in April, all hell has broken loose and it seems that there are blooms everywhere now. If we have no more rains, all the green grass will soon start to turn golden brown by the end of May in warmer areas, or the end of June along the coast. Then we’ll only have the more drought resistant wildflowers blooming, such as the lovely Fairwell to Spring, the various Clarkias, and the Zauschnerias will be the last to close out the dry summer season.

  9. Having moved down to Virginia from New Jersey two years ago, I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that I always thought of dogwoods and redbuds as cultivated species. When I saw them blooming in the forest here, I thought they must be a sign of past human habitation! Of course I was completely wrong. They are part of the traditonal understory of the forests here, and they make for an extraordinarily beautiful spring all through the south!

  10. On Vancouver Island we have the lovely cornus nuttallii, the Pacific Dogwood. A few years ago I was flying home in May and was amazed to see hundreds of them, their showy blooms popping against the many shades of green in the forests near my home. I would never have known just how prevalent this tree is in the wild here if I hadn’t been airborne at the right time of year. I was under the impression that anthracnose had destroyed many of our native dogwoods, but not where Im living!

  11. Bloodroot is the first up. Mushrooms can’t be far behind – yum. The service berry (amelechier (sp)) blooms before the dogwoods, from a distance people mistake them for dogwoods, as they are a forest edge species too.
    Why is it redbudd looks great in the woods and too garish in the suburban yard and seems to clash with everythihing?

  12. The purple cress (Cardamine douglasii) beats the bloodroot and violets by about a week. All three are blooming now in my northern Indiana woods. There are buds on the trout lily (aka as adder’s tongue and dogtooth violet), toadshade, dutchmen’s breeches, redbud and sessile trillium. I’ve found shoots of grandiflora trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit, mayapple, twinleaf, wild oats, and Solomon’s seal. I love the deciduous forest in spring.

  13. What a beautiful trip you had. Pretty soon I’ll be able to take a walk in our own woods and see a few of these wildflowers. I might even plant a few in auspicious spots.

  14. Me too! Me too! I love seeing dogwoods in the wild. I love seeing older dogwoods in the older parts of my city. They have such a unique branch structure!

  15. I’m visiting my folks in Alabama right now after flying into Nashville and driving South. The dogwoods backed by the new spring green are both exciting & peaceful to me. I grew up surrounded by the glory of dogwoods in Spring, but every time I see it it still takes my breath away.

  16. Skunk Cabbage first, but Hepatica and Bloodroot are usually the first ones noticed; Toothwort and Dutchmans Breeches, then Spring Beauty, false and true Rue Anemone…

    Then the Prairie Trillium, Bluebells, Jacobs Ladder, Mayapple, Celandine Poppy, Geranium, Woodland Phlox…

    Finally, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, drifts of Waterleaf, and Green Dragon! Then it’s “on to the prairie!”

  17. Here in the Columbia Basin (Eastern Washington State, desert, but milder winters than inland at this latitude) we first see long-leaf phlox, woolypod milk-vetch, prairie star, yellowbells, and trumpet bluebells. And soon – lupines. Yay!

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