Rutgers researchers developed the award-winning Scarlet Fire® dogwood for Rutgers' 250th birthday

A world-renowned dogwood tree developed at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, has been named a Gold Medal Plant by the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society (PHS).

Introduced in 2017 and created in part by Thomas Molnar, PhD, an associate professor of plant biology within the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, the Scarlet Fire® dogwood tree is available throughout the world. It is one of six plants included in the 2022 PHS Gold Medal Program - Outstanding Plants for the Mid-Atlantic Garden.

“As a plant breeder, it means a tremendous amount to have one of our Rutgers cultivars – especially my first dogwood release – recognized with this prestigious award from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society,” said Molnar, who received his PhD from Rutgers. “One of the things that makes this very special is that the plant was chosen by a panel of nursery owners, horticulturists, expert gardeners, and professional growers for inclusion in the Gold Medal Program, which is exciting as it validates our efforts to release the best new dogwoods we can for homeowners and the nursery and landscape industries in the region.”

Scarlet Fire dogwood tree

Besides being strong and durable enough to withstand the diseases and insects that decimated the native flowering dogwoods in Central New Jersey, the Scarlet Fire® dogwood is also much more colorful than any other of its species; it is the first-ever dark-pink blooming kousa dogwood, and the blooms last 6-8 weeks.

Molnar and his predecessor Elwin Orton, PhD, professor emeritus of plant biology and pathology with whom Molnar worked as a graduate student, were striving to develop a kousa dogwood with deep pink coloring in time for Rutgers’ 250th anniversary in 2016. Through cross breeding, Molnar and his colleague John Capik, a field researcher in the department of plant biology, were able find the color they wanted and grow a dogwood that blooms after just two years; other young dogwood trees take up to five years to blossom. The tree was named Scarlet Fire® dogwood in honor of Rutgers and the bright color of its blooms.

The PHS Gold Medal Program winners are selected by a group of nursery owners, horticulturists, expert gardeners and professional growers, who look for “the best performing and most beautiful.” The criteria for the judges include ease of cultivation, multiple seasons of interest, commercial availability, appropriateness for the Mid-Atlantic region, and value to wildlife. The PHS describes the Scarlet Fire® on its website as:

A flowering dogwood with magnificent, fuchsia-colored flowers. Scarlet Fire® adapts very well in many different climates and soils. It is a medium-growing tree that blooms within two years of being planted. Scarlet Fire® is a relatively new addition to the ornamental landscape with its deer and disease resistant tolerance.”

Through Innovation Ventures, the technology transfer within Rutgers Office for Research, Scarlet Fire® has been licensed to several growers in the USA, Europe, and Australia. For more information, visit