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European Cornel (Cornus mas)
European Cornel (Cornus mas)
Plant Info
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Kingdom: Plantae
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Class: Magnoliopsida
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Order: Cornales
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Family: Cornaceae
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Genus: Cornus
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The Dogwoods comprise a group of 30-50 species of deciduous woody plants (shrubs and trees) in the family Cornaceae, divided into one to nine genera or subgenera (depending on botanical interpretation). Four subgenera are enumerated here.


Types of Dogwood

Cornus drummondii in flower
Canadian Dwarf Cornel (Cornus canadensis)
Cornus florida Dogwood berries encased in ice, Hemingway, South Carolina

  • Flower clusters inconspicuous, usually greenish, surrounded by large, showy petal-like brac

ts; fruit usually red:

    • (Sub)genus Chamaepericlymenum. Bunchberries or Dwarf cornels; two species of creeping subshrubs growing from woody stolons.

Characteristics of Dogwood

Flowering Dogwood blooming in Spring

Most species have opposite leaves, but alternate in a few. 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 for 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.

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).

Dogwood in Government Insignia

Numerous varities 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 Canadian province of British Columbia

The Dogwood (Cornus florida) and its inflorescence are the state tree and the state flower respectively for the U.S. State of Virginia. It is also the state tree for Missouri, and the state flower for 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 the shuttles of looms, for tool handles, and other small items that required a very hard and strong wood.

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

The Fable of the Dogwood

There is a Christian fable that the cross used to crucify Jesus was constructed of Dogwood. As the fable goes, during the time of Jesus, the Dogwood was larger and stronger than it is today. After his crucifixion, Jesus changed the plant to its current form: he shortened it and twisted its branches as to assure an end to the use of the plant for the construction of crosses, and he transformed its inflorescence into the form of his crucifixion itself. That form is recognized by the flower petals, which are said to represent the four corners of the cross; the red stamen of the flower, which is to represent Jesus' crown of thorns; and the clustered fruit, that represent his blood.

However, this is just a fable that has been cobbled together over a long period of time. It is unlikely to have any truth to it for the following reasons: the modern Dogwood is typically too small and twisted in trunk and branch for such a task; there is no evidence indicating that Dogwoods had larger, firmer or stronger trunks and branches during the time of Christ; and, an evolution of the Dogwood from one to the other over a mere thousand years is unheard of in evolutionary science. Furthermore, the Bible does not specify what type of wood was used to construct the cross of Jesus, and there is no indication within Roman records and histories of the materials used in cross construction[1]. Since there is no Biblical, historical, archaeological or scientific evidence of this story, it is likely to be inaccurate. The origin of this fable is not known.

External links




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