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Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Cornales
Family: Cornaceae
Genus: Cornus


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The Dogwoods comprise a group of 30-50 species of mostly deciduous woody plants growing as shrubs and trees; some species are herbaceous perennial plants and a few of the woody species are evergreen. They are in the family Cornaceae, divided into one to nine genera or subgenera (depending on botanical interpretation). Four subgenera are enumerated here. The tree has a heavy bark.



    • (Sub)genus Swida. Dogwoods; about 20-30 species of shrubs; flower clusters without an involucre.
      • Cornus alba (Swida alba; Siberian Dogwood). Siberia and northern China.
      • Cornus alternifolia (Swida alternifolia; Pagoda Dogwood or Alternate-leaf Dogwood). Eastern North America north to extreme southeast Canada.
      • Cornus amomum (Swida amomum; Silky Dogwood). Eastern U.S. east of the Great Plains except for deep south, and extreme southeast Canada.
      • Cornus asperifolia (Swida asperifolia; Rough-leaf Dogwood).
      • Cornus austrosinensis (Swida austrosinensis; South China Dogwood). East Asia.
      • Cornus bretschneideri (Swida bretschneideri; Bretschneider's Dogwood). Northern China.
      • Cornus controversa (Swida controversa; Table Dogwood). East Asia.
      • Cornus coreana (Swida coreana; Korean Dogwood). Northeast Asia.
      • Cornus drummondii (Swida drummondii; Roughleaf Dogwood). U.S. between the Appalachian belt and the Great Plains, and southern Ontario.
      • Cornus foemina (Swida foemina; Stiff Dogwood) Southeastern, Southern, and Eastern United States.
      • Cornus glabrata (Swida glabrata; Brown Dogwood or Smooth Dogwood). Western North America.
      • Cornus hemsleyi (Swida hemsleyi; Hemsley's Dogwood). Southwest China.
      • Cornus koehneana (Swida koehneana; Koehne's Dogwood). Southwest China.
      • Cornus macrophylla (Swida macrophylla; Large-leafed Dogwood). East Asia.
      • Cornus obliqua (Swida obliqua; Pale Dogwood). Eastern North America.
      • Cornus paucinervis (Swida paucinervis). China.
      • Cornus racemosa (Swida racemosa; Northern Swamp Dogwood or Gray Dogwood). Extreme southeast Canada and northeast U.S.
      • Cornus rugosa (Swida rugosa; Round-leaf Dogwood). Southeast Canada and extreme northeast U.S.
      • Cornus sanguinea (Swida sanguinea; Common Dogwood). Europe.
      • Cornus sericea (C. stolonifera; Swida stolonifera; Red Osier Dogwood). Northern North America.
      • Cornus stricta (Swida stricta; Southern Swamp Dogwood). Southeast U.S.
      • Cornus walteri (Swida walteri; Walter's Dogwood). Central China.
      • Cornus wilsoniana (Swida wilsoniana; Wilson's Dogwood). Central China.
  • Flower clusters inconspicuous, usually greenish, surrounded by large, showy petal-like bracts; fruit usually red:
    • (Sub)genus Chamaepericlymenum. Bunchberries or Dwarf cornels; two species of creeping subshrubs growing from woody stolons.
    • (Sub)genus Benthamidia (syn. subgenus Dendrobenthamia, subgenus Cynoxylon). Flowering dogwoods; five species of trees, divisible into two subgroups (Benthamidia, with individual drupes, and Dendrobenthamia, with the drupes coalaced into a compound fruit[1]).

Characteristics of Dogwood

Most species have opposite leaves and a few have alternate. 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 in 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. As flowering trees, they are of rare elegance and beauty, comparable to Carolina silverbell, Canadian serviceberry, and the Eastern Redbud for their ornamental qualities.

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). They were used by pioneers to brush their teeth. The pioneers would peel off the bark, bite the twig and then scrub their teeth.

Dogwood in government insignia

Numerous varieties 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 province of British Columbia.

The Dogwood (Cornus florida) and its inflorescence are the state tree and the state flower respectively for the U.S. Commonwealth of Virginia. It is also the state tree of Missouri and the state flower of 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).[2] The wood was also highly prized for making loom shuttles, arrows, tool handles, and other small items that required a very hard and strong wood.

Larger items were also made of dogwood such as the screw in basket-style wine or fruit presses, also made were the first styles of tennis racket's made out of the bark cut in thin strips.

Another earlier name of the dogwood in English is the whipple-tree. Geoffrey Chaucer uses the word whippletree in the Canterbury Tales (The Knight's Tale, verse 2065) to refer to the dogwood. Another larger item made of dogwood still bears the name of the tree from which it is carved. The whippletree is an element of the traction of a horse-drawn cart, which links the drawpole of the cart to the harnesses of the horses in file.

The name Dog-Tree entered English vocabulary by 1548, and had been further transformed to Dogwood by 1614. Once the name dogwood was affixed to the tree, it soon acquired a secondary name as the Hound's Tree, while the fruits came to be known as dogberries or houndberries (the latter a name also for the berries of Black nightshade and alluding to Hecate's hounds).

It is possible that the common name of Dogwood may have come because “dogs were washed with a brew of its bark, hence Dogwood.” Another name is blood-twig, due to the red colour it turns in autumn.

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

The legend of the dogwood

There is a Christian legend of unknown origin that proclaims that the cross used to crucify Jesus was constructed of dogwood.[3] As the story goes, during the time of Jesus, the dogwood was larger and stronger than it is today and was the largest tree in the area of Jerusalem. After his crucifixion, Jesus changed the plant to its current form: he shortened it and twisted its branches to assure an end to its use for the construction of crosses. He also transformed its inflorescence into a representation of the crucifixion itself, with the four white bracts cross-shaped, which represent the four corners of the cross, each bearing a rusty indentation as of a nail and the red stamens of the flower, represents Jesus' crown of thorns, and the clustered red fruit represent his blood.[4]

White supremacy

The dogwood is a symbol of white supremacy in the American South. The following poem, for example, appeared on a postcard showing and celebrating the lynching by hanging of five black men from a dogwood tree:

This is only the branch of a Dogwood tree; An emblem of WHITE SUPREMACY. A lesson once taught in the Pioneer's school, That this is a land of WHITE MAN'S RULE. The Red Man once in an early day, Was told by the Whites to mend his way.

The negro, now, by eternal grace, Must learn to stay in the negro's place. In the Sunny South, the Land of the Free, Let the WHITE SUPREME forever be. Let this a warning to all negroes be, Or they'll suffer the fate of the DOGWOOD TREE.[5]


  1. ^ Rushforth, K. (1999). Trees of Britain and Europe. Collins ISBN 0-00-220013-9.
  2. ^ Vedel, H., & Lange, J. (1960). Trees and Bushes in Wood and Hedgerow. Metheun & Co. Ltd., London.
  3. ^ The Old Legend of the Dogwood
  4. ^ What is the legend of the dogwood tree? Was the cross Jesus was crucified on made of dogwood?
  5. ^

External links



Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




From dag, a sharp object, + wood.



Wikipedia has an article on:




dogwood (plural dogwoods)

  1. Any of various small trees of the genus Cornus, especially the wild cornel and the flowering cornel
  2. The wood of such trees and shrubs.
  3. A wood or tree similar to this genus, used in different parts of the world.



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