Large and graceful, dogwood blossoms soften trees very nicely in the spring- it almost looks like a whole flock of butterflies have come to roost. Cornus florida, or flowering dogwood, is the most commonly seen species of dogwood in North America, and is in fact native to the eastern part of the country. It’s really not difficult to identify them. Four large petal-like bracts, or modified leaves, surround a huddle of true flowers in the centre, tiny and greenish. The bracts are often white, with a slight greenish tinge at times, or varying shades of pink. They may not be the most delicate, or the most intricate, but they provide a lovely burst of colour, especially when they’re paired with the grey stone architecture in New Haven.
Flowering dogwood leaves are large, opposite, simple, oval-shaped, and a lovely shade of emerald green that turns rust-coloured in the autumn. Fruits comprise small, round drupes, clustered together, and are usually some shade of orange to red. Birds like them, but they’re poisonous to humans.
Aesthetics aside, it’s a rather useful plant as well. The wood of the dogwood tree is resistant to sudden shock, and has been fashioned into golf clubs, mallets, handles, and even butcher’s blocks. The dried bark is thought to have some use medicinally as well, effective against malaria, fever, pneumonia, colds, diarrhoea, sores, and ulcers. A scarlet dye can also be derived from it.
A close relative to the flowering dogwood is the kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa), native to China, Korea, and Japan. I’d actually first noticed the knobbly pink fruit, adorable and looking like a buckyball, hanging over the wall of one of the undergraduate colleges. The next Spring I realised it was a kousa dogwood, with bracts that taper to a point. They’re smaller and neater as well, and so the entire tree looks a little more elegant and less extravagant than the flowering dogwood. This flowers later, and consequently also bears fruit later, which are reportedly very pleasant tasting and- of course- have been appropriated in making wine.