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Flowering Dogwoods
(Cornus florida)

dogwood on bull shoals
Flowering dogwood near Bull Shoals Lake

The best time to see dogwood blooms in the Ozarks is from the middle of April to early May. Drive through any hardwood forest and you'll see the brilliant-white blossoms in the understory. Dogwoods and redbuds do bloom at the same time in many spots so it is not uncommon to see the two trees side-by-side in blossom. Both trees bloom before the leaves appear on their hardwood hosts.

In late March and early April wild cherry and wild plum also bloom with brilliant white blossoms which may be mistaken as dogwood. The plum and cherry blooms do not have the large petal-like bracts of the dogwood bloom.

ozark dogwoods
Dogwood flower surrounded by white bracts

Known simply as "dogwood" by many people the flowering dogwood is also called boxwood and cornel. Yet even though the "florida" in its Latin name means flowering, the white blossom is not truly a flower. The showy petal-like bracts are actually a form of leaf. The actual flower is the small, yellowish cluster found in the center of the bracts. Each cluster has several very small flowers. While most dogwoods have snowy-white bracts it is not uncommon to see pink bracts in nature. Pink dogwoods are commonly propagated from clones by commercial nurseries for ornamental landscaping.

Dogwoods produce small bright-red fruits called drupes which ripen from September to late October. Each fruit usually contains two seeds in a hard, bony stone. Though poisonous to humans, dogwood fruit is a important food source for wildlife. Fruits have been recorded as food eaten by at least 36 species of birds, chipmunks, foxes, skunks, rabbits, deer, beaver, bear, and squirrels. The bark, twigs, and leaves are also important browse for rabbits and deer as dogwood contains a very high level of calcium and fat content.

pink dogwood
Pink dogwood blossom

Dogwood lumber is hard and closed-grained. It is used in specialty products which must withstand rough use, such as spools, small pulleys, malletheads, jewelers' blocks, and chisel handles. Dogwood is so resistant to sudden shock that it has long been the choice material for golf club heads. Most commercially harvested dogwood was used in the textile industry to make shuttles for weaving because the wood wears smooth with use and is able to withstand continuous use at high speed.

In the Ozarks dogwoods are an understory tree found mostly in mature hardwood forests. Very tolerant of shade, maximum photosynthesis occurs at slightly less than one-third of full sunlight. It is tolerant of high temperatures. They rarely grow higher than 40 feet tall, with 20 to 30 feet tall about average. The crowns typically spread about 20 to 30 feet wide. Trunk diameter is about 3 to 16 inches, most trees in the Ozarks will be from about 6 to 10 inches in diameter. In some areas dogwoods may have a multi-stemmed trunk growth, but most Ozark dogwoods are single-trunked trees. The extensive root system is extremely shallow, which accounts for the dogwood's susceptibility to drought. Dogwoods are often the first to wilt in dry weather. In recent years dogwoods across at least 16 states have suffered from a deadly fungus called anthracnose.

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