Dogwood does double duty
Dogwood does double duty
Is the flowering dogwood, Cornus florida, Virginia’s state flower or state tree?
The answer is both.
In 1918, the General Assembly declared the flowering dogwood as the state floral emblem. Almost four decades later, legislators also named it the state tree. As a result, Virginia is one of only a few states having the same state flower and state tree.
A native of the Eastern U.S., the flowering dogwood was doubly honored because of its natural beauty and its prevalence across the commonwealth. The Senate joint resolution stated that the dogwood “would foster a feeling of pride in our state and stimulate an interest in the history and traditions of the commonwealth.” This rings true, for the history of the dogwood parallels the history of America.
American Indians used dogwood bark to make medicinal teas, scarlet dyes, and tinctures to color eagle feathers and porcupine quills. They harvested the hard wood and carved it into arrows and weapons.
Early settlers followed suit, fashioning the wood into tool handles, rakes, yokes and weaving shuttles. The tree’s spring blossoms signaled to farmers that planting season was at hand.
Over time, Americans cultivated the dogwood, and both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson beautified their estates with dogwood seedlings. During the Civil War, doctors brewed a dogwood-bark tea as the best-available substitute for quinine.
Today, the dogwood is primarily an ornamental that graces woodlands and landscapes across Southeastern America. The tree’s wide appeal stems from its year-round interest, starting with a delightful spring display.
What appear to be showy flowers actually are modified, petal-like leaves called bracts. The bracts range in color from creamy white to vibrant shades of pink and crimson, depending on the species. Dogwood bracts attract pollinators toward the tree’s true bloom, which is the small, yellow-green cluster that grows in the center of four bracts.
After pollination, the flowers produce oval green fruit called drupes. These mature over the summer, turning a bright scarlet red by autumn. A favorite for birds and wildlife, the drupes are poisonous to humans. Those left on the tree colorfully contrast with the tree’s dull, blocklike bark throughout the winter season.
Prominently veined, oval leaves offer visual interest as well, transforming from greens in spring to mosaics of orange, red and maroon in autumn.
Lynn Kirk is public relations writer for Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.