Definitions

blue dogwood

Dogwood

[dawg-wood, dog-]

The Dogwoods comprise a group of 30-50 species of mostly deciduous woody plants growing as shrubs and trees, some species are herbaceous perennial plants and a few of the woody species are evergreen. They are in the family Cornaceae, divided into one to nine genera or subgenera (depending on botanical interpretation). Four subgenera are enumerated here.

Taxonomy

Characteristics of Dogwood

Most species have opposite leaves and a few have alternate. The fruit of all species is a drupe with one or two seeds. Flowers have four parts.

Many species in subgenus Swida are stoloniferous shrubs, growing along waterways. Several of these are used in naturalizing landscape plantings, especially the species with bright red or bright yellow stems. Most of the species in subgenus Benthamidia are small trees used as ornamental plants. As flowering trees, they are of rare elegance and beauty, comparable to Carolina silverbell, Canadian serviceberry, and the Eastern Redbud for their ornamental qualities.

The fruit of several species in the subgenera Cornus and Benthamidia is edible, though without much flavour. The berries of those in subgenus Swida are mildly toxic to people, though readily eaten by birds. Dogwoods are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Emperor Moth, The Engrailed, Small Angle Shades and the following case-bearers of the genus Coleophora: C. ahenella, C. salicivorella (recorded on Cornus canadensis), C. albiantennaella, C. cornella and C. cornivorella (The latter three feed exclusively on Cornus). They were used by pioneers to brush their teeth. The pioneers would peel off the bark, bite the twig and then scrub their teeth.

Dogwood in government insignia

Numerous varieties of Dogwood are represented in the insignia of U.S. states and Canadian provinces.

The inflorescence of Pacific Dogwood is the official flower of the province of British Columbia

The Dogwood (Cornus florida) and its inflorescence are the state tree and the state flower respectively for the U.S. Commonwealth of Virginia. It is also the state tree of Missouri and the state flower of North Carolina.

Etymology and other meanings

The word dogwood comes from dagwood, from the use of the slender stems of very hard wood for making 'dags' (daggers, skewers). The wood was also highly prized for making loom shuttles, arrows, tool handles, and other small items that required a very hard and strong wood.

Larger items were also made of dogwood such as the screw in basket-style wine or fruit presses, also made were the first styles of the tennis racket made out of the bark cut in thin strips.

Another earlier name of the dogwood in English is the whipple-tree. Geoffrey Chaucer uses the word whippletree in the Canterbury Tales (The Knight's Tale, verse 2065) to refer to the dogwood. Another larger item made of dogwood still bears the name of the tree from which it is carved. The whippletree is an element of the traction of a horse-drawn cart, which links the drawpole of the cart to the harnesses of the horses in file.

The name Dog-Tree entered English vocabulary by 1548, and had been further transformed to Dogwood by 1614. Once the name dogwood was affixed to the tree, it soon acquired a secondary name as the Hound's Tree, while the fruits came to be known as dogberries or houndberries (the latter a name also for the berries of Black nightshade & alluding to Hecate's hounds).

It is possible that the common name of Dogwood may have come because “dogs were washed with a brew of its bark, hence Dogwood.” Another name is blood-twig, due to the red colour it turns in autumn.

In botany and in colloquial use, the term dogwood winter may be used to describe a cold snap in spring.

The legend of the dogwood

There is a Christian legend of unknown origin that proclaims that the cross used to crucify Jesus was constructed of dogwood. As the story goes, during the time of Jesus, the dogwood was larger and stronger than it is today and was the largest tree in the area of Jerusalem. After his crucifixion, Jesus changed the plant to its current form: he shortened it and twisted its branches to assure an end to its use for the construction of crosses. He also transformed its inflorescence into a representation of the crucifixion itself, with the four white bracts cross-shaped, which represent the four corners of the cross, each bearing a rusty indentation as of a nail and the red stamens of the flower, represents Jesus' crown of thorns, and the clustered red fruit represent his blood.

Notes

External links

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