Creature Feature: Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
By CG Science Editor Emma Dean
The state tree of Missouri, the memorial tree of New Jersey and the state flower of Virginia and North Carolina all happen to be the Flowering Dogwood. So attractive and fragrant, it’s no wonder Ohio University incorporated it into its landscaping. However, unlike other vegetation cohabitating on campus such as the Burning Bushes that guard the doors to Scripps, the Flowering Dogwood is native to eastern North America.
Its history on the continent is lengthy and involved. Native Americans extracted a red dye from its roots. The roots and bark were utilized as a medicinal remedy for malaria by both the Native Americans and also during the Civil War. Its twigs were supposed to whiten a person’s teeth and consequently were used as chewing sticks.
No longer useful in that manner, only deer gnaw on the twigs. Deer and birds both eat the red berries, which the trees produce in the autumn.
Today the Flowering Dogwood is valued for its appearance which consists of a very unusual flower. The perennial’s flowers are small with four green-ish yellow petals arranged in clusters. Protecting the flowers are four showy bracts that are often mistaken as petals. These showy bracts emerge first and are either white or pink. The flowers bloom in spring and last for about two to three weeks.
After the flowers and leaves have run their seasonal course, the tree readies for autumn with brilliant red and purples leaves. The Flowering Dogwood is active in the winter as well when both winter bark and branches form.
- Flowering Dogwoods grow to be between 20 and 30 feet tall.
- The root system of this perennial is shallow and a source of water is important (or regular waterings).
- Flowering Dogwoods are shade lovers and prefer a natural habitat that is moist.
- Some of its native habitats include shaded woods, river banks and wood edges.
- Unfortunately, the Flowering Dogwood is very susceptible to diseases, particularly anthracnose and septoria leaf spot. The diseases it is vulnerable to effect almost every part of the tree—flowers, leaves, stems, trunk and roots.
- Anthracnose and septoria leaf spot are flower and leaf diseases which present colored spots until the leaf begins to yellow and curl. Fungus endangers stems, trunks and roots.
- Flowering Dogwood is fairly nutritious with its leaves, twigs and berries all rich in calcium, protein and minerals. No wonder it’s a favorite snack for local wildlife.
- Flowering Dogwood’s come in white, pink and red. However, the pink is a light shade of pink, whereas the red is more of a hot pink.