In honor of BC day, August 1, I want to tell you about BC’s provincial flower, the dogwood. It’s one of my favorite trees, though I’d have to admit that most trees are my favorites. However, I promise not to go all botanical on you.
Wikipedia says that the Pacific, or mountain, dogwood, is a species native to western North America from southern BC to southern California, with an inland population in central Idaho. Cultivated examples are found as far north as Haida Gwaii, (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands). It is a small to medium-sized deciduous tree, reaching 10–25 meters tall.
The flowers are individually small and inconspicuous, produced in a dense, rounded, greenish-white flowerhead; the four or more large white “petals” are actually bracts or leaves. The fruit is a pink-red berry, containing 50-100 small seeds; it is edible, but is said not to taste good. The dogwood blooms from April to June and sometimes again in September.
With spectacular white “flowers,” bright green leaves, and beautiful autumn foliage, Pacific Dogwoods are popular in landscaping applications. The tree is long-lived and easy to grow if planted in its natural range. These trees love moisture but are also drought tolerant. They can grow well in both shade and full sun. They don’t mind floods but are sensitive to frost.
Birds feast on the fruit. Bears and beavers eat the fruit and foliage and deer browse the twigs. Some shrews and voles eat the seeds and it is pollinated by many insects. Dogwood flowers provide nectar to pollinating insects and then become fruit that is sought after by birds and mammals.
The wood of the tree is hard, heavy, strong, and close-grained. It is used for tool handles, cabinet making, thread spindles, and piano keys. The bark is rich in tannin and has been used as a preservative.
First Nations used the wood to make bows, arrows, implement handles and clothing hooks, as well as knitting needles and skewers called “dags.” The young shoots can be used to make baskets and the boiled bark was used to make a brown dye. Medicinally, it was prepared to alleviate stomach troubles, as a blood purifier and a lung strengthener.
The book, Plants of Coastal BC says there are several theories as to where the name “dogwood” came from. One has it that the berries were considered unfit for even a dog to eat. Another is that it is derived from the First Nations word “dag,” meaning skewer.
There, that wasn’t too flowery a speech, was it?