Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


Photo © Steven Schwartzman


Spring Snowflakes

Flowering dogwoods bring springtime travelers to East Texas.

The snowy white blooms of the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) are one of the first signs of spring in East Texas forests. Many Texans include seeing this annual floral explosion (with a simultaneous outburst of azaleas) on their bucket list.

Not just another pretty face, the flowering dogwood provides food for many Pineywoods animals when the scarlet fruit develops in the fall. Seeds are dispersed through animal droppings and germinate the following spring. Flowering dogwoods live up to about 80 years.

The genus name of Cornus means “horn” and refers to the hard wood of the tree; florida does not refer to the state but to an abundance of blooms. There are several other species in the dogwood genus Cornus, but none is as widely adapted and as widely grown in the South as the flowering dogwood.

The common name, dogwood, comes from England. Once, people used the bark of the bloodtwig dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) to bathe mangy dogs, and the name stuck. Native Americans used flowering dogwood to make scarlet dyes and tinctures. Although the fruits are poisonous to humans, in the late 1700s, colonists made a tea from dogwood bark to reduce fevers and soothe colds.

What we may call the “flowers” on a dogwood are modified leaves called bracts. The tiny, true flowers are clustered in the center of the white bracts.

According to religious legend, these trees were once much larger and stronger, but when a dogwood tree was used in the crucifixion of Jesus, dogwood trees were so ashamed that thereafter they grew too slender and bent to ever again be used in such a way. Each blossom forms a cross, with a rusty nail dent found in each petal; the flower centers represent a crown of thorns to complete the symbolism.

Today, flowering dogwoods are popular landscaping trees. They are slow growing (often only a few centimeters per year in dense shade), resilient and beautiful as an accent plant.


The Dogwood Trails Celebration takes place the last two weekends in March and first weekend in April in Palestine. Enjoy the delicate beauty of the dogwood trees in 254-acre Davey Dogwood Park, with 8 miles of trails, and the surrounding area. Activities are scheduled each weekend, including the Dogwood Trails Festival, the Piney Woods Excursion Train at the Texas State Railroad, the Dulcimer Festival, the Main Street Farm and Flower Market, a play at the historic Texas Theatre and much more. Find more information at texasdogwoodtrails.com

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