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

Leaf of the Day: Dogwood

Three lovely dogwoods, now in full bloom with dainty white flowers, greet you as you enter Leu Gardens. I missed the dogwoods last year, there was so much else to see, so I am determined to make some studies this year. It’s just so pretty and another white” flower” for my series. I did not realise that the white petals are not petals at all but bracts, the flowers are in fact tiny and yellow bunched together in the centre (similar to daisies).

There are some interesting possibilities about the origin of the name “Dogwood”. This is an excerpt from “Learn to Grow” Garden Guides here written by Dr. Gerald Klingaman

“The etymology of the word “dogwood,” used for our native C. florida, is not completely clear. One possibility is that it comes from the Middle English word “dag,” referring to a wooden spit made from a shrubby dogwood native to England. These spits were sold on the streets for cooking meat over an open flame.The word “dag” is itself an adaptation of “daggere,” or “dagger,” as we now know it. The Cornelian cherry was recognized for its hard, tough wood and was used for making pikes and maybe wooden daggers. Following this line of reasoning, dogwood is a corruption of the word “dag wood.”
The other explanation for the name is that leaves of the English Cornus were used to make a concoction to treat dog mange. A recipe is found in a 17th century herbal, so it’s possible that early English colonists saw the similarity between the plants and adapted the name.”

It seems that the Dog Rose’s name is also a misinterpretation from “Dag Rose” referring to the ferocious dagger like thorns.

Dogwood wood is very shockproof as well as very hard and at one time was useful for many small items such as chisel handles, golf club heads, rake teeth and machine bearings. When weaving was mechanised it was perfect for shuttles, which now had to withstand the high speed and constant wear of the big industrial looms.

From Philadelphia’s Workshop on the World site here H.Riehl & Son Textile Machinery, loom and shuttles.

Shuttles made of Dogwood and maple then impregnated with wax or clear shellac, these sold for $25-30 and were replaced “after having run round the clock for four years.”

I am going to the Gardens tomorrow and will find a flower to make a study of, and perhaps make a detailed drawing of the centre but for now a colour sketch from a pen and ink sketch I made the other day… so more dogwood tomorrow.

Dogwood Sketches