A small tree casts a big spell in the Sierra foothills this month and next, as dogwoods unfurl their showy blooms.
In the wild, Pacific dogwood produces creamy white, saucer-size flowers that "look like doves landing on thin, dark branches," notes professor Marcia Braga, head of environmental horticulture at Sierra College in Rocklin. The trees, which usually bloom by late April, tend to grow on north slopes beneath mixed conifers at elevations of about 3,000 to 4,500 feet ― Emigrant Gap and Calaveras Big Trees State Park are two good places to enjoy the show. Especially at Calaveras, where everyone goes to see the sequoias, the dogwoods are almost more stunning in their subtle grace and delicacy, appearing like lacework around the bases of the giant trees.
If the flowers of Pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) resemble doves, those of cultivated Eastern dogwood (Cornus florida), found in abundance in Old Town Auburn, off Interstate 80, look like raucous parrots, palest pink to deep magenta. Sometimes multiple hues are grafted onto one tree ― as sure a sign of spring as a basket full of Easter eggs.
INFO: Look for wild dogwoods while heading west on State 20 toward Nevada City from I-80 at Emigrant Gap. Or try the North Grove at Calaveras Big Trees State Park (76 miles east of Stockton on State 4; 209/795-2334).