The popular flowering dogwood is widely used in landscaping and home gardens as well as remaining prevalent in natural forests as an understory tree. Not only are its blossoms and colorful fall leaf display valued, but its distinct hardwood has been useful to early settlers and Native Americans alike.
The flowering dogwood is an ornamental tree. It produces small bracts or flowers in the early spring. These are most often white with a small spot on red on the center of the edge of each petal. Some varieties produce pink flowers. The dogwood can reach heights of 30 feet, but more commonly is only about 15 feet tall. Its bark has a block-like appearance and the leaves turn purple in the fall. It produces small red berries favored by squirrels and birds. Dogwoods have a lifespan of about 80 years.
Dogwoods prefer moist, well-drained soil but can grow in other types. They prefer to grow in the understory of larger trees when growing in the wild, but are equally happy in full sun. In the United States, flowering dogwoods are prevalent from Michigan to Massachusetts and over to Kansas and Texas. They are native to the United States, Europe and Asia.
Uses for the Wood and Bark
Early settlers used the wood to make essential tools, including pitchforks, mallets, crochet hooks and knitting needles. The bark was used to brew a tea used to treat fevers. Native Americans used the food for daggers and arrows. They also used the dogwood to make dyes of scarlet. They used the inner bark to create a tobacco that was used in the ceremonial pipe. Today the wood is still used to make commercial loom shuttles and spindles because of its hardness and trait of not scratching things it comes in contact with.
The dogwood has suffered from the dogwood blight, a fungus discovered in the 1970s. It spread so much that by the 1990s, it was noted in trees across the entire range of growth. The disease creates spots on the leaves with purple edges. The leaves then drop. After two to three years, the tree dies. Powdery mildew, cankers and leaf blight are other problems that threaten the flowering dogwood. All conditions are more prevalent when conditions are overly moist, though only dogwood blight is fatal.
State Flower or Tree Use
The popularity of the flowering dogwood can be traced back to Thomas Jefferson, who planted them around his home, Monticello, in Virginia in the late 1770s. As the tree grew in favor, Virginians came to embrace it, making it first their state flower in 1918 and later their state tree in 1956. Other states honored the dogwood as well. North Carolina chose it as its state flower in 1941 and Missouri chose it as its state tree in 1955.