Monday, April 13

what happened to all the dogwoods?

Like me, if you live in the Southeast, you probably remember all the “dogwood trails” that people followed when the native flowering dogwoods bloomed each spring. 

Did you know that thirty years ago, dogwood was the #1 flowering tree. Sadly, not today. What has happened to all the dogwoods?
Dogwoods aren’t terribly long-lived as trees go. No dogwoods living today saw the Civil War (well, the 'real' one, not those reenactments). But that’s not the only reason why we don't see an occasional dogwood nowadays. It’s because when a dogwood died, most people replaced it with a tree that they think will be easier. i.e. The crepe myrtle.

Today, in many Southern neighborhoods, you can scarcely pass by a single house that doesn't have a crepe myrtle. And it’s easy to understand why. They bloom for a long time, offer many different colors, boast handsome bark if you don’t kill them, and tolerate drought and most soils. Plain and simple — they’re easier to grow than dogwoods.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try dogwoods. The flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) still remains the best small tree for multi-season interest. Not just in the Southeast, either — for the Northeast and Midwest too. Showy blossoms of white, pink, or red appear in spring before the leaves.

After the leaves drop, bright red fruits are revealed that persist all fall and winter — until they’re gobbled by robins, cedar waxwings, and mockingbirds.

Contrary to popular belief, a flowering dogwood grows just fine in full to partial sun. It’ll grow well in shade too, but it won’t bloom. The trick to growing it in full sun is giving loose, acid, fertile, moist soil — no rocks or clay — and extra water during hot, dry stretches. Soak the roots with a hose; don’t rely on lawn sprinklers. If you let the tree wilt, the leaves will scorch badly (brown and curl on the edges) and may not set flower buds. Also spread a generous layer of mulch under the tree (but don’t pile it up against the trunk) to cool the roots and keep the soil moist. Why plant in sun in the first place? Because a happy tree in sun sets many more flowers.

Dogwood is also one of the first trees to change color in fall. The leaves may turn scarlet, but crimson or burgundy-red is more the norm.Cornus is commonly known as dogwoods, which can generally be distinguished by their blossoms, berries, and distinctive bark. Most are deciduous trees or shrubs, but a few species are nearly herbaceous perennial subshrubs, and a few of the woody species are evergreen. Several species have small heads of inconspicuous flowers surrounded by a large, typically white petal-like bracts, while others have more open clusters of petal-bearing flowers. The various species of dogwood are native throughout much of temperate and boreal Eurasia and North America, with China and Japan and the southeastern United States particularly rich in native species.

A Christian legend of unknown origin proclaims that the cross used to crucify Jesus was constructed of dogwood. 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 representing the four corners of the Cross, each bearing a rusty indentation as of a nail, the red stamens of the flower representing Jesus' Crown of Thorns, and the clustered red fruit representing His Blood.