Dogwood flowers are made up of four large bracts around a small, red clustered fruit that is called the head of the flower. When dogwood is in full flower, its blooms are about two inches in diameter.
White is the traditional color of dogwood flower, but it can also be found in yellow, red and pink. All dogwoods have a fleshy stone fruit, most considered inedible.
Dogwood shrubs are small. The leaves in autumn can be dappled with red.
Every aspect of the dogwood - its size and shape as a shrub, its flowers' features - has been laden with legendary symbolism, primarily tied to the crucifixion of Jesus.
There is no Biblical reference to the dogwood but myth says dogwood was chosen as the wood used for the crucifixion cross. Because of that link, legend says, God ordered that from that day forward, the dogwood tree would never grow tall again, forever cursed to be twisted and short.
The flower's associations with Christ's crucifixion include the center's clustered fruit resembling the crown of thorns; the four petals resembling the cross; and the touch of reddish, rusty color on the outer edge of each petal for the rust from the nails used to hang Christ and the blood he shed.
Legend even describes feellings of the dogwood - the pink flower is blushing, and the weeping dogwood is crying in regret.
In American Indian lore, a native princess, killed by a suitor she refused, used dogwood petals to dab blood from her wounds as she lay dying. This myth says that led to the dogwood flowers' red marks on their petals.
Worldwide, there are 50 species of dogwood. Of those, 17 can be found in the U.S. The dogwood flower's genus is Cornus, primarily made up of deciduous shrubs and trees. The family of the dogwood is cornaceae.
Uses of dogwood
Dogwood bark has had various uses throughout history. It was used as timber for crucifixions in Christ's time.
American colonists used small slivers of the bark to clean small cracks in watches, and larger pieces for printer's blocks, knitting needles and hammers.
Dogwood branches were also used by American Indians to make arrows because of the wood's hardness. They also chose the time to plant their crops by when the dogwood flowered.
Dogwood flowers - including pink dogwood - are often given as gifts on holidays, especially Easter, because of their religious symbolism.
Names for dogwood
At one time, the dogwood was known in some areas as an "arrow-wood" tree or "Indian arrow-wood" because of its frequent use by Native Americans in making arrows.
The term "dogwood" is believed to have come from England, where its bark was sometimes boiled and used as a treatment for dogs' mange.