The dogwood is one of the most iconic blooming trees of the southeastern United States. The dogwood can be characterized as a group of 40 to 50 species of woody plants in the family Cornaceae. Famous for its bright, aromatic flowers and hard, durable wood, the dogwood is widely used for both its beauty and function.
Flowering dogwoods have four large petals
The dogwood’s most conspicuous characteristic is its four-part flower. Ranging in color from white to pink to yellow, the blossoms produce a red, blue or white fruit called a drupe. The thick bark of the dogwood encloses a woody stem. The plants can range in size from shrubs and bushes along waterways to sturdy trees standing dozens of feet.
The dogwood thrives in southeast Asia and Eastern North America, but is found all over the world, including Europe and western North America. Iconic for its beauty and ease of identification, the flowering dogwood is the state tree of Virginia and Missouri, and the state flower of Virginia and North Carolina.
The word dogwood is derived from the original "dagwood." The tree’s hardwood stems were used for making "dags," which were used as various types of weaponry from daggers and arrows to skewers and spears. The wood was also sought after for use as tool handles, looms and fruit presses due to its high tensile strength. Early tennis rackets were made from the woven bark of the dogwood.
The dogwood is also the center of a longstanding Christian legend. The story holds that the cross used to crucify Jesus was made of dogwood. Many people believe that the dogwood was a larger, sturdier tree than it is today and was used for purposes of greater construction. The story continues that after his crucifixion, Jesus shortened the tree and twisted its branches so that it could never be used for cross building again. The cross-shaped flowers, the red thrown-like stamens and the clustered blood red fruit are said to represent elements of the crucifixion.
The dogwood is a highly prized tree largely because of its adaptability. The tree thrives in several types of soil and growing conditions and is not susceptible to any major pests or diseases. The dogwood’s relatively small size and high volume of blossoms make it a popular landscaping element.
Some European species of dogwood are used to make an alcoholic beverage known as a vin de courneille. Its fruit is also used in preserves and an oil extracted from the wood is used in France for making soap.
Dogwood can be grown from a seed, or its roots and branches can be used to clone a plant. By placing a cutting of the tree in moist soil right after the tree has flowered, root shoots will begin to form.