Swida controversa and Cornus brachypodia



Common name/s ?

Wedding cake tree, giant dogwood and table dogwood.

Skill rating



Asia (China, Japan, Taiwan and Korea).

Type of plant ?

Deciduous, perennial tree.

Hardiness zone ?

RHS zone


EGF zone


USDA zone


Eventual size

15m height and spread.

Growth rate ?

Moderate, will reach full height in 10 to 20 years.

Shape it grows into

A tree with very layered growth.

Season/s of interest

Foliage on the tiered branches from spring to autumn, flowers in summer and colourful fruit in autumn.

Where to grow it

Happy in full sun or part shade.
Prefers well drained to moist soil.

Happy in most soils, although it prefers not to be in chalk soil or alkaline conditions. Needs a relatively sheltered spot so the tiered growth isn’t distorted by the wind.

Cornus controversa


Branches grow in layers, giving this large, deciduous tree a tiered appearance when in leaf. The foliage is bright green turning purple in autumn. Clusters of small cream/white flowers appear in summer, followed by attractive fruits which turn from green to pink then to deep purple/black.

What to use it for

A great focal point for a large garden and good for low maintenance gardening. Has wildlife benefit as birds eat the berries.

How to look after it

Requires little or no care beyond the initial training (see below).

How to prune it

Train as a central leader standard tree, keeping the trunk clear for about a quarter or a third of the tree’s height. Once established keep pruning to a minimum, just removing dead, diseased or damaged growth. Any pruning should be carried out from autumn to early spring. It does not like to be hard pruned.

How to propagate it

Seeds can be collected in autumn and sown outdoors immediately or cleaned and refrigerated for 3 to 4 months in moist sand (to break their dormancy) to be sown in late winter or early spring.

Softwood cuttings can be taken in late spring or early summer, or plants can be grafted.

Common problems

Cornus anthracnose and die back can be a problem, as can viral diseases. Horse chestnut scales may also infest the plant.

If planted in an exposed site the wind can effectively ‘prune‘ the windward side of the tree, reducing its growth and giving the plant a lopsided appearance. It is difficult to rectify this once the damage has been done.