The State of Virginia has adopted the dogwood flowering tree as its State tree, and many cities in America have named themselves ‘The Dogwood City.’ Atlanta, Georgia holds a spring festival every April to coincide with the flowering of the of the dogwood trees in Atlanta, Georgia. The Dogwood Festival has continued for 70 years, successfully attracting visitors for events such as outdoor musical extravaganzas in Piedmont Park and the attraction of many artists to display and sell to those visitors who wish to buy pottery, sculpture, oil paintings, and photographs.
Flowering dogwood trees, Cornus florida, were discovered in the South by William Bartram in 1773; these trees were beautifully described in his exploratory book, Travels (page 399). Near Mobile, Alabama. Bartram encountered a grove of dogwood trees that aggressively covered an area 9 miles long. The dogwood trees were growing so thick that sunlight was practically excluded, and almost all other plant life was excluded except for an occasional white flowering Magnolia grandiflora. The land on which the white flowering dogwood tree grew was level soil that was loose with a humid black organic mould on the surface with dogwood roots growing into a stiff yellowish clay. The limbs of the flowering dogwood trees were interlocking and spread horizontally at a tree height of 12 feet. The vast interlocking limbs of the dogwood trees covered the entire area as a shade tree that cooled the camping area used by William Bartram. After exploring for another seventy miles, Bartram wrote “spacious groves of this fine flowering tree, which must, in the spring season, when covered with blossoms, present a most pleasing scene; when at the same time a variety of other sweet shrubs display their beauty.
The white flowering dogwood is a native tree to the forests of America and has been exported worldwide as a seedling dogwood and as a grafted white dogwood also flowering in pink and red. The pink flowering dogwood is available to buy as a seed grown tree, but the most desirable, stable, predictable pink dogwood trees are nursery grafted trees. Red flowering dogwood trees are not available as seedling trees, but as grafted cultivars, such as the Cherokee Chief, red flowering dogwood tree.
The dogwood tree, Cornus florida, is very adaptable in America, ranging from Massachusetts to Florida, and the tree is generally grown as an understory tree 12-15 feet tall, although some old specimens of 40 feet tall are recorded. The flowering dogwood tree is perfect for planting and growing in a small garden or in large parks and as big landscape specimen trees. Dogwood has the unusual quality of growing well when planted beneath pine trees, where only a few other shrubs such as redbud trees, azalea plants, and camellia shrubs can compete successfully, because of the dense root pine tree competition near the surface of the ground.
The flowering of dogwood trees begins in early spring and the flowering lasts 2 to 3 weeks. Oval berries of bright red are formed following the blooms and persist on the trees into fall and winter after leaves are shed, and until they are eaten by wildlife and birds. In the fall the dogwood trees are covered in brilliant red leaves that change to purple. The fallen dogwood leaves are very fragile and usually easily deteriorate without raking. Flowering dogwood trees will grow well underneath oak tree shade as well as under pine trees, but the dogwood tree remarkably will grow well in full sun. Dogwood trees are well adapted to stress and are very tolerant of dry weather. Dogwood trees are tolerant of cold weather, and thrive in USDA zones 5 through 9.
Every landscape gardener appreciates the spring blooms of the white flowering dogwood trees as a background companion tree for flowering redbud trees or in a combination of flowering azalea shrubs in colors of red, pink, purple, or white.
Dogwood trees can be propagated by growing from the seed or by rooting the cutting, but the best dogwood cultivars are grown from grafted trees. The Cloud Nine, flowering, white dogwood tree produces very large (hand-size) blooms, especially in the juvenile stage. The Weaver’s Select, white, flowering dogwood tree is grafted and can produce a flower 6 inches wide.
The dogwood tree has been rumored to have been the wood from which the crucifixion cross of Jesus Christ was made in the year 33 AD. This rumor is ridiculous in several respects: first, there is not Biblical record of dogwood trees in the Scriptures of the Old Testament Bible or the New Testament. Most plant references in the Bible are very vague except for a few references to the date palm tree, olive tree, pomegranate trees, fig tree, and grape vines. The identity of those plants and trees is obvious, because of their fruits that are produced, but accurate plant identity could not be done easily until Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish physician, suggested rules on naming plants in the early 1700′s.
There are many species of dogwood trees and shrubs, but it is unlikely that any of the Mideastern species of dogwood trees grew trunks large enough to shape into a crucifixion cross. The wood of the dogwood tree is so hard and dense that nails driven into the wood would split the wood. That tree definitely could not have been the North American dogwood tree, Cornus florida, since that tree did not grow in Israel at the time of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps the reason for the rumor is that the dogwood tree was the wood of the crucifixion cross is the fact that the four white bracts (flower) are shaped like a cross. This resemblance of a white cross-shaped flower occurs in innumerable species of flowers of trees and, of course, should not be given any weight of evidence of the dogwood tree wood being the substance of crucifixions by the Jewish High Priest and the Roman rulers.