DOGWOOD FAMILY - Cornaceae: Flowering Dogwood
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.
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."
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.
Even more abundant is the Silky Cornel, Kinnikinnick, or Swamp Dogwood (C. Amomum) 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.