This section is from the book "Nature's Garden", by Neltje Blanchan. Also available from Amazon: Nature's Garden; An Aid To Knowledge Of Our Wild Flowers And Their Insect Visitors.
Flowers - (Apparently) large, white or pinkish, the four conspicuous parts simulating petals, notched at the top, being really bracts of an involucre below the true flowers, clustered in the centre, which are very small, greenish yellow, 4-parted, perfect. Stem: A large shrub or small tree, wood hard, bark rough. Leaves: Opposite, oval, entire-edged, petioled, paler underneath. Fruit: Clusters of egg-shaped scarlet berries, tipped with the persistent calyx.
Preferred Habitat - Woodlands, rocky thickets, wooded roadsides.
Flowering Season - April - June.
Distribution - Maine to Florida, west to Ontario and Texas.
Has Nature's garden a more decorative ornament than the flowering dogwood, whose spreading flattened branches whiten the woodland borders in May as if an untimely snowstorm had come down upon them, and in autumn paint the landscape with glorious crimson, scarlet, and gold, dulled by comparison only with the clusters of vivid red berries among the foliage? Little wonder that nurserymen sell enormous numbers of these small trees to be planted on lawns. The horrors of pompous monuments, urns, busts, shafts, angels, lambs, and long-drawn-out eulogies in stone in many a cemetery are mercifully concealed in part by these boughs, laden with blossoms of heavenly purity.
" Let dead names be eternized in dead stone, But living names by living shafts be known. Plant thou a tree whose leaves shall sing Thy deeds and thee each fresh, recurrent spring."
Fit symbol of immortality! Even before the dogwood's leaves fall in autumn, the round buds for next year's bloom appear on the twigs, to remain in consoling evidence all winter with the scarlet fruit. When the buds begin to swell in spring, the four reddish-purple, scale-like bracts expand, revealing a dozen or more tiny green flowers clustered within; for the large, white, petallike parts, with notched, tinted, and puckered lips, into which these reddish bracts speedily develop, and which some of us have mistaken for a corolla, are not petals at all - not the true flowers - merely appendages around the real ones, placed there, like showy advertisements, to attract customers. Nectar, secreted in a disk on each minute ovary, is eagerly sought by little Andrena and other bees, besides flies and butterflies. Insects crawling about these clusters, whose florets are all of one kind, get their heads and undersides dusted with pollen, which they transfer as they suck. Hungry winter birds, which bolt the red fruit only when they can get no choicer fare, distribute the smooth, indigestible stones far and wide.
When the Massachusetts farmers think they hear the first brown thrasher in April advising them to plant their Indian corn, reassuringly calling, "Drop it, drop it - cover it up, cover it up - pull it up, pull it up, pull it up" (Thoreau), they look to the dogwood flowers to confirm the thrasher's advice before taking it.
The Low or Dwarf Cornel, or Bunchberry (C. Canadensis), whose scaly stem does its best to attain a height of nine inches, bears a whorl of from four to six oval, pointed, smooth leaves at the summit. From the midst of this whorl comes a cluster of minute greenish florets, encircled by four to six large, showy, white petal-like bracts, quite like a small edition of the flowering dogwood blossom. Tight clusters of round berries, that are lifted upward on a gradually lengthened peduncle after the flowers fade (May - July), brighten with vivid touches of scarlet shadowy, mossy places in cool, rich woods, where the dwarf cornels, with the partridge vine, twin flower, gold thread, and fern, form the most charming of carpets.
Other common dogwoods there are - shrubs from three to ten feet in height - which bear flat clusters of small white flowers without the showy petal-like bracts, imitating a corolla, as in the two preceding species, but each little four-parted blossom attracting its miscellaneous crowd of benefactors by association with dozens of its counterparts in a showy cyme. Because these flowers expand farther than the minute florets of the dwarf cornel or the flowering dogwood, and the sweets are therefore more accessible, all the insects which fertilize them come to the shrub dogwoods too, and in addition very many beetles, to which their odor seems especially attractive. ("Odore carabico oscarabeo " - Delpino.) The Round-leaved Cornel or Dogwood (C. circinata), found on shady hillsides, in open woodlands, and roadside thickets • - especially in rocky districts - from Nova Scotia to Virginia, and westward to lowa, may be known by its greenish, warty twigs; its broadly ovate, or round petioled, opposite leaves, short-tapering to a point, and downy beneath; and, in May and June, by its small, flat, white flower-clusters about two inches across, that are followed by light-blue (not edible) berries.
Silky Cornel Or Kinnikinnik. (Cornus cAmonum.)
Even more abundant is the Silky Cornel, Kinnikinnick, or Swamp Dogwood (C. Amonum) - C. sericea of Gray - found in low, wet ground, and beside streams, from Nebraska to the Atlantic Ocean, south to Florida and north to New Brunswick. Its dull-reddish twigs, oval or oblong leaves, rounded at the base, but tapering to a point at the apex, and usually silky-downy with fine, brownish hairs underneath (to prevent the pores from clogging with vapors arising from its damp habitat); its rather compact, flat clusters of white flowers from May to July, and its bluish berries are its distinguishing features. The Indians loved to smoke its bark for its alleged tonic effect. (Illustration, p. 2^2.)
The Red-osier Cornel or Dogwood (C. stolonifera), which has spread, with the help of running shoots, through the soft soil of its moist retreats, over the British Possessions north of us and throughout the United States from ocean to ocean, except at the extreme south, may be known by its bright purplish-red twigs; its opposite, slender, petioled leaves, rather abruptly pointed at the apex, roughish on both sides, but white or nearly so beneath; its small, flat-topped white flower-clusters in June or July; and, finally, by its white or lead-colored fruit.
In good, rich, moist soil another white-fruited species, the Panicled Cornel or Dogwood (C. candidissima) - C. paniculata of Gray - rears its much-branched, smooth, gray stems. In May or June the shrub is beautiful with numerous convex, loose clusters of white flowers at the ends of the twigs. So far do the stamens diverge from the pistil that self-pollination is not likely; but an especially large number of the less specialized insects, seeking the freely exposed nectar, do all the necessary work as they crawl about and fly from shrub to shrub. This species bears comparatively long and narrow leaves, pale underneath. Its range is from Maine to the Carolinas and westward to Nebraska.