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What Time is it in Nature: Flowering Dogwood

May 10, 2013

You know spring is here when the Flowering Dogwoods (Cornus florida) begin to bloom!  The bloom is largely over at Prairie Ridge as we approach summer, but Flowering Dogwoods are beautiful trees at any time of the year.

Flowering Dogwood

Flowering Dogwoods are small deciduous trees in the dogwood family of trees, Cornaceae.  They top out at about 30 feet tall and are often wider than they are tall with low-hanging branches and coarse, blocky bark that resembles alligator hide.  They have deep green elliptical leaves that are positioned opposite from one another on branches and turn bright red or purple in the fall.  In fall and early winter, the trees sport clusters of bright red berry-like fruits that are important winter food sources for many local birds and mammals.

The Flowering Dogwood is one of the most iconic Southern trees (and our state flower) due to the early spring flower bloom.  While they are often mistaken for petals, the white parts of the Dogwood “flower” are actually bracts, modified leaves that protect the flowers developing inside.  These eventually peel back, revealing the flowers: small, yellow-green blossoms found in clusters at the center of the bracts.  The flowers typically begin to bloom before the leaves appear and most will have drooped and fallen from the tree before the last leaves have unrolled.

While they are relatively small trees, the wood of the Flowering Dogwood is quite hard and heavy and has long been used in the production of wooden products such as textile shuttles and spools, golf clubs, and mallets.  However, the production of these products has been threatened in recent years by the fungal pathogen Dogwood Anthracnose.  This disease causes spreading dead areas in the wood that can damage or kill the tree and is of great concern in western North Carolina, other parts of the Eastern US, and the Pacific Northwest.

You’ll find Flowering Dogwoods in the understory of the forest of Prairie Ridge, along our Forest Trail.  Look for wide treetops and bright green leaves on short trees.  Maybe you’ll find birds perched on the branches, or squirrels using them as springboards as they race through the forest canopy.  You never know what you might see lurking in the leaves, so visit our Dogwoods soon!

What Time is it in Nature is a weekly feature highlighting the current plants, animals, and other wildlife at the Musuem’s public outdoor facility, Prairie Ridge Ecostation. Find out more about the natural happenings at Prairie Ridge at our What Time is it in Nature Archive!

(Photos by Chris Goforth (left and center images) and Wikipedia user Mickaw2 (right).

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