"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag

Dogwoods, Red and White (3 of 3)

From Self-Portrait with Dogwood by Christopher Merrill:

“A small deciduous tree, the flowering dogwood belongs to the understory in a hardwood forest, occupying the middle space between the ground and sky, providing nectar for pollinating insects, branches and foliage and fruit for perching and nesting songbirds, nutrients for the soil, ingredients for medicines, wood for bowls and shuttles and tools, and an open invitation for an aging man to reflect on his walk in the sun, to reconsider his relationship to nature, to pay attention to the worlds revolving in his memory, his imagination, and all around him.”


This is the third post in a series featuring photos of dogwood blooms that I took a few weeks ago. The first two posts are:

Dogwoods, Red and White (1 of 3)

Dogwoods, Red and White (2 of 3)

For this post, I “rearranged” bracts and blooms in some of the images, then painted the backgrounds black — because that’s what I like to do!

I just bought Self-Portrait with Dogwood by Christopher Merrill (quoted above) last week. It’s now part of my collection of books about specific types of plants or flowers (see Bearded Irises in Purple and Blue (1 of 2)), and is a series of essays where the author explores the connections between his life and nature, as he researches the history and lifespan of dogwood trees.

His description of dogwoods as “understory in a hardwood forest, occupying the middle space between the ground and sky” caught my eye. It may be a literary flourish; but, also, it’s a fitting characterization of the way natural spaces develop (or redevelop) in layers, in a kind of hierarchy of shorter then taller and taller plants, with each layer serving its purpose in the creation of a woodland, forest, or even garden, as lower layers sometimes (and eventually) get supplanted. Reading the Forested Landscape by Tom Wessels is an excellent introduction to interpreting the history of such natural spaces, and — if the subject interests you — I definitely recommend it.

From the book — which focuses on New England in the United States as the author’s source for instruction — you can learn how to observe a natural space and understand decades of its development, based on the appearance of trees and tree trunks, layers of plant growth, the impact of past fires or storms (called “disturbance histories”), and man-made events and structures such as dividing land into pastures by plowing and creating boundaries with the upturned stones. You will also read about tiny plants called “basal rosettes” that are evidence of new beginnings for a wild area; how a tree develops a split or “coppiced” trunk; the meaning of “deadfall” and how broken trees will push up “stump sprouts” because they’re not as dead as they look; and what “pillows and cradles” mean in the appearance of landscapes. These are just a few of the delights contained in its 200 pages, which will teach you to see every natural space with brand new eyes.

(If you would like to view some photographs I took at the time I first read Wessels’ book, photos I took with what I’d learned from the book in mind, see Before and After: Fun with Big Rocks and Before and After: Swamp Things.)

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Dogwoods, Red and White (2 of 3)

From Beautiful at All Seasons: Southern Gardening and Beyond by Elizabeth Lawrence:

“Dogwoods have their troubles. Some springs the blossoms are marred by late frosts, and in some seasons the leaves are disfigured by brown splotches. The beauty of dogwoods in April makes these drawbacks seem unimportant. Other good points are the rich autumn color of the foliage, the bright fruits that hang on after the leaves fall, the lovely form of the bare trees, and the winter pattern of the bud-tipped branches.”

From Let Us Build a City: Eleven Lost Towns by Donald Harrington:

“Not far west of Newton County [in Arkansas] is an actual locale called Dogbranch, and a timeworn Dogbranch Cemetery, and then of course there are dogwood trees everywhere, and also dogbane, dogtooth violet, dogberries, dog days, dogpaddling, dog sled, dogtrot, dog’s life, and dogma, and… ‘dog’ is pronounced ‘dawg’ everywhere….”


Here are a few more dog-dog-dogwood blooms! And, of course, we learned in the previous post (see Dogwoods, Red and White (1 of 3)) what part of these plants is the dogwood flower, didn’t we?

Thanks for taking a look!

Dogwoods, Red and White (1 of 3)

From Seeing Trees: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees by Nancy Ross Hugo:

“We take psychological possession of the things we can recognize. To me, getting to know a tree is like getting to know a human being — the more you know, the more the relationship deepens, and a person’s (or a tree’s) capacity to surprise you never ends….

“You may, for example, think you know the flowering dogwood. If it is your state tree, as it is mine, you have probably learned that the white appendages that look like its petals are technically bracts (modified leaves) and that its real flowers are in the center of what we think of as the blossom. But only when you look closer, into the dogwood’s real flowers — about twenty of them clustered in the middle, each with four yellow-green petals — and actually see them blooming, each tiny flower with its complement of four stamens and pistil, does this distinction become meaningful. Like discovering that a person you knew for one talent is accomplished in another… discovering new tree traits broadens your appreciation of the tree….

“And there is absolutely no end to the tree traits waiting to be discovered even in an ordinary backyard.”


I’ve never had the privilege of naming a plant or a tree, but if I ever did, I’d want to change the species name of the dogwood tree from its current name — Cornus florida — to Canis florida since “Canis” is part of the species name for our four-legged barking friends and they surely deserve such an honor. I realize that might cause some species-confusion — naming a tree after a puppydog — but, hey, the names are all made up anyway so people would get used to it after a while. I’m sure you agree…. (or possibly not).

Bark! Bark!

I actually didn’t know that the red or white portion of the plants you see below was not the flower until I read about them in Seeing Trees, quoted above. As noted, the flower is only the center yellow part, barely the diameter of a penny or dime; the rest is a modified leaf — a rather spectacular one, I think. Intriguing to me that the plant evolved that way; presumably the brightly-colored bract is designed to attract pollinators and guide their attention to the flower at the center.

I took these photos during Dogwood Season — late March and early April here — but didn’t work on them until I had finished with my photos from Iris Season (which runs concurrently with the late Dogwood period). You have probably seen those if you’ve been here recently. Driving through parts of my ‘hood earlier, I noticed that Lily Season is starting and developing quickly, so I hope to have some lily photos to show shortly after I finish these three dogwood tree posts. If you would like to see some previous year lily photos, click here.

Thanks for taking a look!

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