Thursday, February 25, 2010

Cornus florida

Cornus florida is our native dogwood. This one happens to have pink flowers, which you occasionally find in the woods, though most will be white. this is an especially nice dark pink one.
Dogwood is found quite generally throughout the United States growing in acid soils and in mixed and semi-shaded locations. Here it is the one growing at the edges of the woods, often mixed with Redbud, and is a true harbinger of spring. It has a hard, dense wood and was sometimes used for making arrows.
Although discarded from the United States Pharmacopoeia over 100 years ago, one notes that the dried bark rates as a bitter tonic, astringent, febrifuge and antiperiodic. The principles which make is valuable may be extracted with either water or alcohol, a simple infusion being made with 1 teaspoonful of dried bark or dried root bark to 1 cup of boiling water, a half-cupful taken hot or cold on retiring. The astringent qualities have caused it to be used in the treatment of sore mouth and as a poultice in external inflammations. All writers on dogwood note that the fresh bark acts as a strong cathartic.
It is said that the Native Americans used the split stems of the hard wood as a toothbrush, and one asumes that the astringent quality helped to harden the gums at the same time.
One of the very creditable statements about dogwood is that its flowering provided the Native Americans with a reliable indication of the date on which corn was to be planted, blooming when all danger of frost was past. I would say that this is usually true in this area, but we have had odd years with a very late frost when the dogwood blossoms have been frozen. That said, one late frost wouldn't have chilled the ground enough, probably, to affect just planted corn since one the ground has warmed up, it takes quite a bit to chill it again.
We have dogwoods planted throughout the gardens, some native ones transplanted from our woods as babies and others which are selected, odd forms. All like the edge of the woods in woodsy soil, moist but not soggy and morning sun is much preferred to afternoon.
It seems pretty amazing that in just 2 months we will be opening the nursery for the season. There has been snow on the ground for at least a month now and it shows no signs of leaving any time soon as snow is predicted every day for most of the next week. Temperatures are about 10 degrees below average. This is definitely a year with a real winter here. I expect that one day it will suddenly turn warm, the snow will melt and the snowdrops will appear and bloom. The witchhazels are ready to bloom, color showing on the buds, just waiting for a couple of nice, sunny days to pop into bloom and fill the yard with that heavenly fragrance.

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