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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Flower

Dogwood

by Lee Plummer Templeton, 2006

Dogwood flowersIn 1941 the North Carolina General Assembly designated the flower of the dogwood tree (Cornaceae) as the official state flower. In actuality, three species of dogwoods exist in North Carolina. The alternate-leaf dogwood (Cornus alternifolia), which is common in the mountains and rare in the northern piedmont, has leaves that are simple and elliptical but are alternate on their stems (hence the name). It has small white flowers that are in loose, flat-topped clusters. Various animals eat its small, deep-blue or black fruit; the plant is usually a shrub or a small tree up to 30 feet tall and eight inches in diameter with a broad, flattened crown.

The gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa) is a bush that has simple, elliptical, and opposite leaves. Its gray-to-white fruits and gray twigs give it its name. This dogwood grows in thickets in damp meadows in the mountains of the northwestern corner of North Carolina.

The flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), common in the wild and popular as an ornamental, is a tree that enchants people every spring. A relatively short tree, its four white (or sometimes pink) petal-like bracts circle the tiny greenish white flowers in the center. The bracts have dark indentations at their tips. The tree has simple, opposite, elliptical leaves that in fall turn from green to red to maroon, and its red berries are a favorite of birds. The flowering dogwood is found in deciduous woodlands throughout the state up to elevations of 4,500 feet.

In years past the hard, shock-resistant wood of dogwood trees was used to make farm implements, wedges for rail splitting, shuttles for spinning mills, tool handles, and other things. The bark, flowers, berries, and roots of the flowering dogwood also had many medicinal purposes. The bark and sometimes the roots were used as a substitute for Peruvian bark in treating intermittent fevers and malaria. The bark was also employed as an antiseptic and a cathartic. The flowers (not the bracts) made a good substitute for chamomile tea, and the berries, when soaked in brandy, also made a serviceable bitter.

Several legends surrounding the dogwood are still repeated in North Carolina. One popular story holds that 2,000 years ago the flowering dogwood tree stood straight, proud, and tall. Because the tree had such strong wood, the Roman soldiers under Pontius Pilate chose to make the cross of Jesus Christ out of dogwood trunks. The dogwood tree was horrified but had no choice. In order never to serve as a cross again, the dogwood became a slender, twisted tree. In addition, to help people remember Jesus' sacrifice, the dogwood flowers bloom in the spring in the shape of a cross with nail holes at the ends.

C. Ritchie Bell and Anne H. Lindsey, Fall Color and Woodland Harvests: A Guide to the More Colorful Fall Leaves and Fruits of the Eastern Forests (1990).

C. Wilbur H. Duncan and Marion B. Duncan, Trees of the Southeastern United States (1988).

Additional resources:

"An act to adopt an official state flower for the state of North Carolina." 1941. Session Laws. c. 289. North Carolina General Assembly. Online at http://digital.ncdcr.gov/u?/p249901coll22,245286

Flowering Dogwood. Plant information Center.

Dogwood. USDA, NRCS. 2007. The PLANTS Database.

Department of Horticulture, University of Kentucky. Flowering Dogwood. http://www.uky.edu/hort/Flowering-Dogwood

Image credit:

Blades, Kathryn. 2009. "Dogwood in bloom." Online on Flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/kblades/3445778148/. Accessed 5/4/2012.

Origin - location: 

Comments

Comment: 

19 March 2021

Greetings,

Thank you for this information on the Dogwood Tree. The horticultural perspectives of the many species and the historical context related to the Biblical days was a reminder we were taught in the fifth grade during the learning of all the Sates, and the many attributes such as the State tree, flag, bird and song. Currently, I’m researching what trees to plant for a school reunion on campus in North Carolina, and I immediately thought of the the Dogwood tree, since I drew the tree the class assignment. I’ll never forget the beaut of the spring time buds and the flowers. After the flowering bud fell to the ground I collected them to feel the silk petals and to see the ruby red on the tips of the petals as described by the teacher of its origins in Bible. The Dogwood is a beautiful tree to behold every spring. Yet, I can recall admiring them as much in the summer as green shade tree and for fall leaves to rake for mulch. I’m inspired to paint from memory my encounter with a Dogwood Tree.

Perhaps it will be like Robert Frost description in the “The Road Not Taken.” It make be think of a pathway filled with trees including Dogwoods.

Again thank you for for this opportunity for expression on the Eve Of Spring.

In the meantime take care and be well

G JahVan Milz
NYC

Comment: 

I have two old handmade quilts with 48 state blocks and it shows NC state flower as a goldenrod on one and the other quilt has the NC state bird as chickadee. I assume I can at least date these to before WWII? Do you have any information on this?

Comment: 

Hello,

I think that is good deductive reasoning since the Dogwood became the official state flower in 1941, and Alaska and Hawaii were admitted in 1959. Arizona, the 48th state was admitted in 1912, so it stands to reason that the quilts were created between 1912-1941; however, it's possible that even after 1941, the creater did not know about the official adoption of the Dogwood as the state flower. You may want to look at other states represented on the quilt for clues to help pinpoint when it was created. 

Thank you for sharing!

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library

Comment: 

This was very helpful.

Comment: 

Thanks for the info! but why was it chosen to be our state flower?

Comment: 

Great question! At the top of the article, there is a link for the words "official state flower". That link takes you to the law that created this as a the state flower. the law says the reason it was adopted as the state flower is because the Dogwood is a beautiful flower and abundant in North Carolina. You can click the link yourself to read the exact wording of the law. 

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library

Comment: 

it helps but when was it adopted as are state flower

Comment: 

IDK

Comment: 

Hello!

Thanks for visiting NCpedia. The state flower was adopted in 1941 by the General Assembly.

Francesca Evans, Government & Heritage Library

Comment: 

This really helped

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