History & Lore of the Dogwood

The dogwood is a small ornamental tree that blooms a four petaled flower in early spring.  In the wild these are primarily colored white but new cultivated pink varieties also exist.  They average 15 feet in height but, can grow twice as high in optimal conditions. In the fall the leaves turn a purplish shade and make way for small red berries in winter that are a delight to wildlife.  A gorgeous specimen and almost staple of the landscape, the dogwood has a long history and is the focal point of a Christian myth – one that coincides with the Easter season.

The dogwood has been a prized tree in America for over 300 years.  Early settlers and Native Americans used the hard, durable wood of the dogwood for daggers, arrows, knitting needles, crochet hooks, pitchforks, mallets and more.  The berries were used to create red dyes and fevers were treated by brewing tea from the bark.  The hardness and smoothness of the wood makes it an ideal choice even today for commercial loom shuttles, spindles and tool handles. It is said Thomas Jefferson was a fan of dogwoods because of the quantity he planted at Monticello in Virginia in the 1770’s.  Here in North Carolina, it was named the state flower in 1941.

Courtesy of John B.

According to legend, the dogwood was once a different tree.  As the myth goes, the dogwood was a bolstering large tree that grew straight and tall.  It was an ideal wood for construction, including crucifixes.  It is said that the dogwood was used to create the cross for Jesus. After his crucifixion, God proclaimed the the dogwood would never again have to be used in crucifixion; he made it short and twisted with a thin trunk to ensure it’s end for this purpose.  Further, it is said that God transformed the bloom of the dogwood to serve as a symbolic reminder of that fateful weekend.  The four white brachs of the bloom form the shape of a cross. They are stained with a rusty red color on each end with a small hole representing where nails were driven into the cross. The center stamens represent the crown of thorns.  This legend is a story that has been passed down for generations; and is apparently why my mother always gives a dogwood as a memorial gift after the passing of a close friend or family member.  Religious or not, each spring around the Easter holiday we are all blessed with the blooms of the dogwood.

Plant your dogwood in well-drained soil in a shady spot in your yard.  It will grace you with it’s beauty each season for years to come. Learn more about care for your dogwood here.