Virginia State Tree
Flowering Dogwood (common name)
Cornus florida (scientific name)
The species name florida is Latin for flowering, but the showy, petal-like leaves, called bracts, are not actually flowers. They are four large, white leaves encircling a cluster of tiny, yellowish flowers. These bracts start out small and green, and gradually enlarge and turn white during the mid-spring blooming season.
In fall, clusters of red berries are formed, and the bright red fall leaf color can be radiant. Flowering dogwood is a common woodland tree through the eastern United States, but has been placed on the protected list in many of the states in which it occurs. A disease of the leaves and inner bark is affecting native dogwoods, killing them within two to three years of infection. Researchers have bred plants that are resistant to the disease.
Flowering dogwood was designated as Missouri's state tree in 1955 and as Virginia's in 1956.
Flowering dogwood is a small, deciduous tree rarely exceeding 30 feet in height. This tree is distinguished by its bark, which is rough with square to hexagonal patterns like cracked mud. Its opposite leaves are oval shaped with an extended point at the tip and impressed parallel veins. Small, yellowish-green flowers grow in a cluster and are surrounded by four large, white leaves called bracts. Berries are hard, oval, and bright red.
Height: 16-49 ft (5-15 m)
Diameter: up to 18 in (46 cm)
Bark: very thin, in small squares
Fruit: glossy, red berries
Leaves: opposite, oval or ovate, 3-6 in (6-13 cm) long, and dark green
This tree has a short lifespan and a moderate growth rate relative to most other tree species. Individual trees normally live for 20 to 80 years, and may live for up to 125 years.
This tree commonly grows as a scattered species in many eastern deciduous or coniferous forests. It grows in association with beech, hickory, maple, hemlock, and oak. It occupies a mid-level height in the forest, never growing as tall as its larger tree associates. It can be inconspicuous in the forest when not in bloom.
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE
Flowering dogwood is a valuable species for wildlife. Many songbirds eat its fruit. The fruit is particularly important to the American robin, as flocks often move from the forest edge to the interior as berries are depleted. Several species of woodpeckers, the common crow, common grackle, starling, and game birds also seek out flowering dogwood fruit. Chipmunk, fox, squirrel, skunk, rabbit, deer, beaver, black bear, and other mammals also eat the fruit.
Beaver occasionally feed on flowering dogwood. Foliage and twigs are browsed heavily by deer and rabbits.
Flowering dogwood is a larval host and/or nectar source for the spring azure butterfly.
OTHER USES AND VALUES
Due to its showy blossoms and attractive fall foliage, flowering dogwood is one of the most popular ornamental trees in the United States. It has been under cultivation in North America since the 1730s. Many new forms have been developed, including plants with pink or red bracts.
The brownish wood of flowering dogwood is hard, strong, heavy, fine grained, and shock resistant. It was formerly used for shuttles in the textile industry, and has also been used for tool
handles, charcoal, wheel cogs, mauls, hay forks, and pulleys. The wood is occasionally used to make specialty items such as golf club heads, turnery, roller-skate wheels, jeweler's blocks, knitting needles, and woodcut blocks.
Some Native American peoples made a scarlet dye from the roots of flowering dogwood. Teas and quinine substitutes were made from the bark. Flowering dogwood root bark was used by Native Americans as a fever reducer, skin astringent, anti-diarrheal agent, and pain reliever for headaches, backaches, sores, and muscle inflammations. Plants contain cornine, which is used medicinally in parts of Mexico. The bright red fruits are poisonous to humans.
Flowering dogwood reproduces through seed as well as by vegetative means. Plants grown from seed often produce seed as early as 6 years of age. Good seed crops are produced every 2 years, with crop failures likely in one of two years. Flowering dogwood often sprouts vigorously after plants are cut or burned. Plants sprout best after winter fellings, and those cut in midsummer produce the fewest stump sprouts. Because of its thin bark, flowering dogwood is readily injured by fire.
Flowering dogwood grows in moist, deciduous woods, on floodplains, slopes, bluffs, and in ravines. It also occurs in gum swamps, along fencerows, and in old-field communities. The inability to grow on extremely dry sites is attributed to its relatively shallow root system. The species grows on acidic soils varying from deep and moist along minor streams to light textured and well drained in the uplands.
Flowering dogwood grows in many hardwood and conifer forests throughout eastern North America. Its range is from central Florida northward to southwestern Maine, and extends westward through southern Ontario to central Michigan, central Illinois, Missouri, southeastern Kansas, eastern Oklahoma, and eastern Texas.
In the southern Appalachians, flowering dogwood grows from sea level to 4,931 feet (1,500 m), but does best on flats and lower or middle slopes from 1,000 to 4,000 feet (304-1,219 m) in elevation.
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U.S. Forest Service
U.S. National Arboretum
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Author: World Trade Press