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Symbolism of a Pink Dogwood

By Sherry Crawford
Pink dogwood
pink dog image by Stormy Ward from Fotolia.com

The dogwood and its flowers are associated with many myths and legends, some from the time of Christ's death and others from the Native Americans.

In Christian symbolism, several aspects of the dogwood flower are linked to the cross, Christ's crown of thorns and his bleeding on the cross.

The pink dogwood flower, in particular, is said to derive its delicate color from its blush of shame for the way the dogwood was used to make the cross for Christ's crucifixion.

Dogwood features

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.

Dogwood legend

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.

Dogwood species

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.


About the Author


Sherry Crawford has been a writer for more than 30 years. She started freelance writing in 1997, with articles published in alumni magazines for Minnesota State University-Mankato, Gustavus Adolphus College and the University of Dubuque. In Iowa, she writes for Kirkwood Foundation, Mercy Medical Center and the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation. Crawford holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism/English from the University of Minnesota.