Sunday, May 11, 2008

Flowering Dogwood, Ditmas Park

Here's a shot of a Dogwood (Cornus florida) in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn.

Most plant people know that the what looks like a petal on the dogwood is actually a bract. The real flowers are the small yellow part in the middle of the blossom. Here, you can see the way the stems actually turn upward, so the petals (or bracts) are parallel with the ground. This is an easy way to spot Dogwoods in the winter. I always describe this to my students by saying the branches look like a waiter's arm, carrying a tray. (It helps, honest.)

There's a whole religious story about the dogwood that I am not going to repeat (you can find it pretty easily anywhere else on the web), but I will go into the origin of the common name. Dogwood wood is very hard and was used by native Americans for skewer-like tools, then referred to as dags (from the French dague, meaning dagger). The name of the tree was first Dagwood. Then somewhere along the line, the name changed to Dogwood. And so began a lot of bad horticultural jokes about bark.

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