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The Crowning Beauty of the Dogwood Tree

AKA: Cornus florida in the Cornaceae family, boxwood, cornell, cornelian cherry, red osier, kousa dogwood, bloodtwig, redtwig, gray dogwood, American boxwood, arrowwood,

Propagation/Description: Flowering dogwood trees can be found in the partially shaded understory of the vast woodlands from Toronto south to the Gulf Coast and from southern Maine to eastern Texas and is the state tree for the State of Missouri, Virginia and North Carolina. It has also historically been found native to Europe and Asia as well. It typically grows to approximately 20 -30 feet tall. The young trees tend to be upright to rounded. The mature specimens grow up to 50 percent wider than tall. The crown is round to flat-topped. The lateral branches grow somewhat horizontally. Flowers bloom in early spring before the leaves emerge and are naturally a greenish yellow but it has been cultivated to bloom pink to almost red in color. To grow your own, take cuttings in the spring (approx. 3-5 in long). Remove the bottom set of leaves and cut the remaining leaves in half. This will encourage root growth. Put into a pot with rooting medium not regular potting soil (it holds too much water). Moisten with water but do not soak with water as it will cause it to rot before it can root. Seal in a bag or make a clear plastic container to create a mini greenhouse type environment. A gentle tug once a week will test if roots have started forming. If there is any resistance… there are roots starting! Once roots start, remove from mini greenhouse and place in a sunny windowsill or porch area. Repot as it grows until the sapling is big enough to transplant outside to its permanent home.

Folklore/History: There are many legends and tales regarding the Dogwood Tree. One from the Christian lore is that the dogwood felt great sorrow for the role it played in Jesus Christ’s death. While on the cross, Jesus sensed the tree’s anguish, and he decided to transform it so that it could never again be used in crucifixion. From that point on, the dogwood was no longer a tall, stately forest tree used to fashion crosses but rather became a small and shrub-like tree with thin and twisted limbs. This legend of the dogwood most likely originated in the United States in the 20th century. We know Dogwoods are not native to the Middle East, nor would they have been found growing there in Jesus’ time. This tree first began being cultivated around 1731. Native Americans read the blooming of the dogwood tree to be the signal that it was time to plant corn. It was also used to make toothbrushes, daggers and arrows. Some tribes, such as the Cheyenne, Apache, Potawatomi and others used the inner bark of the dogwood in a tobacco mixture for the sacred pipe. Indian lore tells of a beautiful Cherokee princess who was courted by a brave. She refused his advances and in a jealous rage, he killed her. The maiden used the blossoms of a dogwood to soak up her blood as she lay dying. This is used to explain the red stains at the tip of each petal or bract. The red-blossomed dogwood is named Cherokee in honor of the legend. The Cherokee also believed that a tiny people lived amidst the Dogwoods and that this divine little race was sent to teach people to live in harmony with the woods.

Medicinal: An old folk remedy for treating mange in dogs involved making a decoction of dogwood bark and washing the affected areas with it. The fruit (if cooked but is believed by some to be toxic), leaves, bark and root bark can be used in treatment of Malaria and help reduce fevers, cuts, burns and other skin wounds and help with sore muscles when used as a poultice or decotion. It is astringent, antiperiodic, diaphoretic, mildly stimulant and a digestive tonic to aid with chronic diarhea.

Spiritual: Dogwood is associated with loyalty, secrets, wishes, protection (more of a concealment or smoke screen), fertility, desire, and illusion. (The illusion part makes a lot of sense — the flowers of the flowering dogwood aren’t actually flowers at all, they’re modified leaves.) Leaves, bark, or flowers can be used as a protective charm. An oil made from the flowers can be used to dress a letter and keep prying eyes from it. It is also believed to aid in setting boundaries, endurance, healing the emotions, love divination, physical healing and help to bring about miracles.

Summary: The Dogwood has long been one of my favorite sights in my area during the spring awakening. It provides not only the regal beauty that pops out in a winter weary forest in spring but also many healing properties both for the body and the spirit within us. I believe Mother Nature provided this lovely sign of spring to uplift our spirits and to bring us healing for so many aspects of our lives.

Bibliography:

The Magic of Trees; A Guide to Their Savred Wisdom & Metaphysical Properties by Tess Whitehurst; pages 109-113.

The Lost Book of Herbal Remedies; The Healing power of Plant Medicine by Nicole Apelian, Ph.D & Claude Davis; page 238.

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