Trees With Flowers Or Fruits - The Dogswoods
( Originally Published 1927 )
Foliage of exceptional beauty is the distinguishing trait of the trees in the cornel family, from the standpoint of the landscape gardener and the lover of the woods. Showy flowers and fruit belong to some of the species; extremely hard, close-textured wood belongs to all; and this means slow growth, which is a limitation in the eyes of the planter who wishes quick results. But he who plants a cornel tree and watches it season after season, finds it one of the most interesting of nature studies through the whole round of the year.
The dogwoods are slender-twigged trees of small size, with simple, entire leaves, strongly ribbed, and with one exception, set opposite upon the twigs. Fifty species are distributed over the Northern Hemisphere; one crosses the equator into Peru. Four of the seventeen species found in the United States are trees; the rest are shrubs, one of them the low-growing bunchberry of our Northern woods.
The Flowering Dogwood
Cornus florida, Linn.
The flowering dogwood is a little tree whose round, bushy, flat-topped head is made of short, horizontal branches. The twigs hold erect in the winter a multitude of buds, large, squat, enclosed in four scales, like the husk of a hickory nut. All the delicate tints that the water-colorist delights in are found in these buds and the twigs that bear them. When spring comes, these scales loosen, expand, turn green, then fade into pure white —forming the four banners, ordinarily called petals—of the bloom of the dogwood. The true flowers are small and clustered in the centre. These white expanses are merely modified bud scales, the botanist will tell you, and the notch at the end is where the horny winter scale broke away, while its base was growing into the large white palm.
From March till May one finds the dogwood clothed in white (see illustration, page 118), and the glossy leaves passing through changing hues from rose to green. The wayward arrangement of the blossoms on the branch is the delight of artists. Lured by the white signals, bees and other nectar-loving insects come to the flowers, cross-fertilizing them while they supply their own needs. In midsummer the pale green clusters of berries replace the flowers, and when in autumn the foliage, still glossy and smooth, changes to crimson and scarlet, the berries are brighter still, until the birds have taken every one.
The bark of the dogwood is checkered like alligator skin but with deep furrows that make it very rough. The wood is used for wood engraving blocks, for tool handles, hubs, and cogs. But it is becoming very scarce. The deplorable destruction of the dogwoods comes not so much from the lumberman as from the irresponsible people who tear the trees to pieces in blossoming time. The wanton mutilation of the dogwoods in natural woodlands belonging to cities can be curbed only by policing the tracts. The saving of every flowering dogwood tree is a duty owed to his community by every wood-lot owner within the range of this hardy, handsome tree. Though exterminated over much of its range, it is able and willing to grow in any state east of the Mississippi River. It is one of the most deservedly popular trees planted for ornament in this country and in Europe.
C. Nuttallii, Aud.
The Pacific Coast outdoes the rest of the country in the size of its forest trees. Superlatives in vegetation abound where the breath of the Japan current tempers the air. The Western dogwood often reaches one hundred feet in height in the forests near Seattle. Its flowers have six, instead of four, of the petal-like, white bracts, each narrower and pointed, and without the terminal notch. The tree in blossom is more magnificent than the eastern species, for the flowers are often twice as large, and the spectacle of one of these trees, after the leaves turn to scarlet in autumn, and it leans against the sombre ever-greens that cover the mountainside, is always startling, even in a country where surprises are the rule.
The European dogwood or cornel is often planted in the Eastern states as an ornamental tree, but not for its flowers alone, though these tiny, button-like clusters cover the bare branches in earliest spring. The showy fruits look like scarlet olives hanging among the glossy foliage in late summer. These fruits are edible, and in Europe are used in preserves and cordials.