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illustration of dogwood flowers
figure 1  


dogwood. A tree of the genus Cornus; esp. bearing large white or pink flowers, and scarlet berries.reference 1

There appears to be no consensus on the origin of the name. A European species of dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) was used for making skewers, or daggers, and would have been referred to as dag, dague, or dagge (dagger) in old English. Alternatively, an extract of dogwood was used to wash “mangy” dogs.reference 2

There is, however, a rather outré legend associated with dogwood. As quoted in the Dictionary of Quotations, it goes this way:

Henceforth it shall be slender and bent and twisted and its blossoms shall be in the form of a cross—two long and two short petals. And in the center of each petal there will be nail prints, brown with rust and stained with red, and in the center of the flower will be a crown of thorns, and all who see it will remember.reference 3

I gather that the tale is apocryphal since no known species of dogwood was native to Jerusalem.

1. The Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2005. 3d ed. Accessed May 31 2006 from

2. Coulber, Sarah. 2004. Dogwood-a Plant for All Seasons. Wild About Gardening. Accessed May 31 2006 from http:// www. wildaboutgardening .org/ en/ features/ section5/ dogwood/ dogwood.htm.



3. Droke, Maxwell. 1954. The Speaker's Special Occasion Book. Indianapolis: Droke House as quoted in Platt, Suzy. 1989. Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations Requested from the Congressional Research Service. Washington: Library of Congress.

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photograph of wilted dogwood blossoms spacer
figure 2  

dogwood winter. A cold snap in the spring during the period that the dogwood blooms.reference 4

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spacer illustration of a scarlet tanager
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Alternatively, blackberry winter. It is akin to Indian Summer without the risky allusion to Native Americans: a brief renewal of the most recently passed season. Figure 2 provides a glimpse of what a late frost did to the dogwood blossoms in Knox County, Tennessee, mid-April 2007.

The scarlet tanager (Figure 3) is sometimes referred to as dogwood-winter bird, or dog-winter bird.reference 5

4. Cassidy, Frederic Gomes, and Joan Houston Hall. Dictionary of American Regional English. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1985. Vol. 2, 122.

5. Ibid. 123.

About the illustrations: Figure 1 shows dogwood flowers displaying their characteristic cruciform pattern. © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.

Figure 2 is a detail of a photograph by Deb Mayes entitled “Dogwood Winter.” Permission is pending.

Figure 3 shows both sexes of the sacarlet tanager posed in a dogwood tree. © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.

   Last updated: August 22, 2008
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