Leaf of the day: Dogwood, Bracts not Petals.

“Stepping delicately out of the dark wood the startling loveliness of the dogwood in bloom makes each tree seem a presence, calling forth an exclamation of praise. On the almost naked branches the blossoms shine forth in long flat sprays..turning their pure faces up towards the sky” David Culross Peattie

The dogwood today outside the Garden House at Leu Gardens.

These dogwood flowers are much more interesting than they first appear and I brought a couple back from the gardens, to take a closer look. The structure of the flower is fascinating . In 1933, Anna Botsford Comstok in ” A Handbook of Nature Study” felt the same,

“The artistic eye loves the little notch at the tip of the bracts even before it has read in it the story of winter protection of which it is an evidence.The flowering Dogwood forms its flower buds during the summer and of course it must have winter protection. They are wrapped in 4 close-clasping purplish brown scales, one pair inside and one pair outside, both thick and well fitted to protect the bunch of tiny flower buds at their centre. But when spring comes these buds change their duties and by rapid growth become four beautiful white pinkish bracts which we call the dogwood flowers.”

A bud with two of the protective bracts beginning to open.

A bud unfolding further, the bracts still joined at the tip.

The individual flowers have four slender curled petals. There may be as many as twenty which open one by one. The open white bracts have the characteristic notch at the tip which gives them the pretty gathered-in shape. The flowers grow at the tips of the branches with new leaves developing just below.

On a gardening note, many believe that the best time to plant tender species, such as tomatoes, is following the “Dogwood Winter”, a cold spell that often comes in late spring. Native Americans used the blossoming dogwood as a sign to begin planting crops, and the early settlers used every part of this pretty and useful tree except “the rustle of its leaves.”

I drew the flower grasped firmly in the teeth of my small clamp, which somehow seemed appropriate for a Dogwood.


Dogwood Flower

Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Like so many of your posts, this one helps me see a familiar plant with a fresh eye. The quotation from Comstok reminded me of what a fine book that is, as well.


  2. Mary thankyou so much. doing the drawings has really made me look and see. After years of haphazard gardening it’s ironic to be without a garden but drawing more plants than I have ever before. Comstock is just wonderful! I had not come across it till I came here to the USA. I know she is old fashioned but her gentle enthusiasm is so delightful.

Comments are closed