The bloom of dogwood trees and the Christian Easter season is a serendipitous occurrence. The tree is renowned for its Christian symbolism. Let me recount just a few:
The Cross is represented by the four “petals” (bracts) of many dogwood flowers which form a cross. The nails of Jesus’ suffering are figured in the “petals” which often have marks on the outer edge, said to be nail marks. The Crown of Thorns is represented in the centre of the flower bloom which can sometimes resemble the shape of a crown. And, finally, the beautiful white bloom each spring speaks of Purity and Resurrection.
Few plants arouse as much envy among our western gardening neighbors than does our flowering dogwood (Cornus florida). Texans in the western two thirds of the state find it either impossible or, at best, extremely difficult to grow this beautiful tree that is native to our East Texas piney woods. When I’m visiting the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, I often come in contact with gardeners who go to great lengths to grow this tree. They import all kinds of soil amendments to acidify their high ph soils. Bags and bags of peat moss are worked into the soil. Chemical acidifiers are regularly applied to the root zones of their dogwood trees. Special care is given to irrigation during extremely dry, windy periods that are prevalent in Central and West Texas. All of this to grow a tree that prospers in our wild woods with very little care and concern. This tree, which is the premier flowering tree of the South, rightly makes our western neighbors green with envy.
The flowering dogwood has few peers. Its lacy branching structure is attractive in that the branches run parallel to the ground as the tree branches off from its central trunk. And when blooms appear in the spring, this branching structure is all the more highlighted as elegant, white flowers produce lacy, visual effects.
In the wilds, the dogwood is an understory tree. That is, it naturally grows underneath pines and oaks. The parallel structure enables the tree to gather as much light as would be possible living in the shadows of these larger, forest trees.
As a teenager I remember visiting the piney woods of East Texas. The great trees amazed me. All appeared dark and shadowy, except where the forest’s under story was ‘lit up’ by the brilliant white bloom of the dogwood. In those days I wasn’t a gardener, but I did immediately recognize the beauty and uniqueness of the dogwood- something I never saw on the plains of Central Texas.
East Texans are not content with having dogwoods in their forests; they want them in their landscapes, as well. And for this, the dogwood is well suited, for our domestic landscapes generally get extra water during the drought seasons (prolong drought is the peculiar enemy to the dogwood). Dogwoods suffer from a myriad of diseases such as: Spot Anthracnose, Leafspot, Dogwood Anthracnose, Botrytis Petal Blight, Cotton Root Rot, Powdery Mildew, Crown Gall and Wood Rot. This list is ugly sounding, isn’t it?
Most of these diseases a dogwood fends off well enough naturally, until it comes under the stress of drought. We all remember how thousands of dogwoods perished in our woods a number of years ago. Old, mature trees died, one after another, from these drought induced calamities. In our personal landscapes, commercial or residential, the dogwood tree, once established, is protected from the dogwood’s great enemy- drought- by supplemental applications of water.
Dogwoods are often difficult to establish in a residential or commercial landscape. The first few years of a dogwood tree’s life are critical. It must not be allowed to dry out during this period. If you are the kind of gardener who likes to slap in a plant and then forget about it, then you will not have success with dogwoods. Take special care during these years. After that the water you apply to your shrubs and lawn will generally carry the plant through, well enough. Dogwoods in our forest generally do best in areas where the soil has plenty of organic matter and in low-lying areas that get extra water.
The dogwood hardly needs recommending. Its beauty and elegance speaks for itself. East Texans should rightly glory n this premier, ornamental tree. The more of them we plant in our domestic landscapes, the better.