A range of flowers in Colins Paddock

Map of the Down

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Wild flowers at Magog Down prev  :  next

Dogwood - Thelycrania (= Cornus) sanguinea

dogwood_238A common shrub of nutrient-rich chalkland in Southern Britain, dogwood is one of the native plants which have been reintroduced onto Magog Down. It is a "shrub for all seasons", producing clusters of four-petalled white flowers in summer ("When the Dogwood flowers appear", says an old rhyme, "frost will not again appear"), claret-red autumn foliage, and branches which bring a warm reddish tinge to the bleak days of winter.

Dogwood's pea-sizes black berries are attractive to the eye but not to the palate. "We for the most part call it the Dogge berry tree, because the berries are not fit to be eaten, or given to a dogge", so said John Parkinson in Theatricum Botanicum (1640). Others have produced more flattering etymologies for the shrub's common name, one suggestion being that it comes from a decoction of the leaves having been used for washing mangy dogs. It has also been claimed that a shrub of this genus (perhaps the American T. sericea) was once used to treat hydrophobia caused by the bites of rabid dogs. But perhaps the most likely derivation of the name is that it is a corruption of "dagwood" - "dag" (as in "dagger") being an old word for the butchers' skewers for which the shrub's very hard wood was once much valued. Other uses included arrows, ram-rods, mill-cogs, pestles, and wedges with which to rive softer woods (and, in parts of the West Country, small crosses which were carried to ward off witchcraft!). Charcoal made from dogwood was used in the manufacture of gunpowder. Given the arrows, ram-rods and gunpowder, not to metion the autumn leaves and winter twigs, the specific epithet "sanguinea" (= "blood red") seems most appropriate!

If you want to be certain that a particular bush really is dogwood, take the base and apex of a leaf between your fingers and thumbs and gently pull the leaf apart. The leaf blade will fracture very neatly across the middle, if you then release one half, it won't fall to the ground but will hang suspended on the very fine vascular strands which will have stretched, but not broken, as the leaf lamina fractured. To the casual observer the leaf-half appears to be hanging, as if by magic, in mid air. I can never pass a dogwood bush without amusing myself with this little conjuring trick - but then, "little things please little minds!"

David Yarham
February 1999

See also...

Report of the visit from Cambridge Natural History Society in August 2017

News about a visit by the local branch of Butterfly Conservation charity taking place in August 2016

News about the very special area of Colin's Bank, published in February 2015

Pasque Flower

One of our Friends sent us this beautiful picture of some Pasque Flowers taken in amongst the Cowslips in May 2016.pasqueflower_jb_may2016_crop_453

Photo by Jill Butler