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Cladus: Eukaryota
Regnum: Plantae
Divisio: Magnoliophyta
Classis: Magnoliopsida
Ordo: Cornales
Familia: Cornaceae
Genus: Cornus
Subgenera: C. subg. Cornus - C. subg. Benthamidia - C. subg. Swida - C. subg. Chamaepericlymenum


Cornus L.

Vernacular names
Eesti: Kontpuu

The genus Cornus comprise a group of 30-50 species[1] of mostly deciduous trees and shrubs in the family Cornaceae commonly known as dogwoods. Some are herbaceous perennials; a few of the woody species are evergreen.

"Dogwoods" are divided into one to nine genera or subgenera (depending on botanical interpretation), four subgenera of which are enumerated here.


The name "dog-tree" entered English vocabulary by 1548, and had been further transformed to "dogwood" by 1614. Once the name dogwood was affixed to the tree, it soon acquired a secondary name as the Hound's Tree, while the fruits came to be known as dogberries or houndberries (the latter a name also for the berries of Black nightshade and alluding to Hecate's hounds). One theory advances that "dogwood" was derived from dagwood, from the use of the slender stems of very hard wood for making 'dags' (daggers, skewers, arrows).[2]

Another earlier name of the dogwood in English is the whipple-tree. Geoffrey Chaucer uses the word whippletree in The Canterbury Tales ("The Knight's Tale", verse 2065) to refer to the dogwood. A large item made of dogwood, the whippletree, still bears the name of the tree from which it is carved. A whippletree is an element of the traction of a horse-drawn cart, which links the drawpole of the cart to the harnesses of the horses in file.


Various Cornus are ubiquitous in American gardens: Donald Wyman stated "There is a dogwood for almost every part of the U.S. except the hottest and dryest areas" (Wyman's Garden Encyclopedia, s.v. "Cornus"). In England, the lack of sharp winters and hot summers makes Cornus florida very shy of flowering.[3] Dense and fine-grained, dogwood timber was highly prized for making loom shuttles, tool handles and other small items that required a very hard and strong wood. Though it is tough for woodworking, some artisans favor dogwood for small projects such as walking canes, longbows, mountain dulcimers and fine inlays. It was an excellent substitute for persimmonwood in golf clubheads (“woods”).

Larger items were also made of dogwood such as the screw-in basket-style wine or fruit presses;. The first kinds of laminated tennis rackets were also made out of the wood cut in thin strips.


Most dogwood species have opposite leaves and a few, like C. alternifolia and C. controversa, have alternate leaves. The fruit of all species is a drupe with one or two seeds, often brightly colorful and sometimes edible. Flowers have four parts.

Many species in subgenus Swida are stoloniferous shrubs, growing along waterways. Several of these are used in naturalizing landscape plantings, especially the species with bright red or bright yellow stems, which color up in winter. Most of the species in subgenus Benthamidia are small trees used as ornamental plants. As flowering trees, they are of rare elegance and beauty, comparable to Carolina silverbell, Canadian serviceberry, and the Eastern Redbud for their ornamental qualities.

The fruit of several species in the subgenera Cornus and Benthamidia is edible, though without much flavour. The berries of those in subgenus Swida are mildly toxic to people, though readily eaten by birds. Dogwoods are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Emperor Moth, The Engrailed, Small Angle Shades and the following case-bearers of the genus Coleophora: C. ahenella, C. salicivorella (recorded on Cornus canadensis), C. albiantennaella, C. cornella and C. cornivorella (The latter three feed exclusively on Cornus).

They were used by pioneers to brush their teeth. The pioneers would peel off the bark, bite the twig and then scrub their teeth.


Dogwoods are grossly distinguished by their flowers:

Flower clusters semi-showy, usually white or yellow, in cymes with large showy bracts, fruit red, blue or white:

* (Sub)genus Cornus. Cornels; four species of shrubs or small trees; flower clusters with a deciduous involucre.
o Cornus chinensis (Chinese Cornel). China.
o Cornus mas (European Cornel or Cornelian-cherry). Mediterranean.
o Cornus officinalis (Japanese Cornel). China, Korea, Japan.
o Cornus sessilis (Blackfruit Cornel). California.
* (Sub)genus Swida. Dogwoods; about 20-30 species of shrubs; flower clusters without an involucre.
o Cornus alba (Swida alba; Siberian Dogwood). Siberia and northern China.
o Cornus alternifolia (Swida alternifolia; Pagoda Dogwood or Alternate-leaf Dogwood). Eastern North America north to extreme southeast Canada.
o Cornus amomum (Swida amomum; Silky Dogwood). Eastern U.S. east of the Great Plains except for deep south, and extreme southeast Canada.
o Cornus asperifolia (Swida asperifolia; Roughleaf Dogwood).
o Cornus austrosinensis (Swida austrosinensis; South China Dogwood). East Asia.
o Cornus bretschneideri (Swida bretschneideri; Bretschneider's Dogwood). Northern China.
o Cornus controversa (Swida controversa; Table Dogwood). East Asia.
o Cornus coreana (Swida coreana; Korean Dogwood). Northeast Asia.
o Cornus drummondii (Swida drummondii; Roughleaf Dogwood). U.S. between the Appalachian belt and the Great Plains, and southern Ontario.
o Cornus foemina (Swida foemina; Stiff Dogwood) Southeastern, Southern, and Eastern United States.
o Cornus glabrata (Swida glabrata; Brown Dogwood or Smooth Dogwood). Western North America.
o Cornus hemsleyi (Swida hemsleyi; Hemsley's Dogwood). Southwest China.
o Cornus koehneana (Swida koehneana; Koehne's Dogwood). Southwest China.
o Cornus macrophylla (Swida macrophylla; Large-leafed Dogwood). East Asia.
o Cornus obliqua (Swida obliqua; Pale Dogwood). Eastern North America.
o Cornus paucinervis (Swida paucinervis). China.
o Cornus racemosa (Swida racemosa; Northern Swamp Dogwood or Gray Dogwood). Extreme southeast Canada and northeast U.S.
o Cornus rugosa (Swida rugosa; Round-leaf Dogwood). Southeast Canada and extreme northeast U.S.
o Cornus sanguinea (Swida sanguinea; Common Dogwood). Europe.
o Cornus sericea (C. stolonifera; Swida stolonifera; Red Osier Dogwood). Northern North America.
o Cornus stricta (Swida stricta; Southern Swamp Dogwood). Southeast U.S.
o Cornus walteri (Swida walteri; Walter's Dogwood). Central China.
o Cornus wilsoniana (Swida wilsoniana; Wilson's Dogwood). Central China.

Flower clusters inconspicuous, usually greenish, surrounded by large, showy petal-like bracts; fruit usually red:

* (Sub)genus Chamaepericlymenum. Bunchberries or Dwarf cornels; two species of creeping subshrubs growing from woody stolons.
o Cornus canadensis (Chamaepericlymenum canadense; Canadian Dwarf Cornel or Bunchberry) Northern North America.
o Cornus suecica (Chamaepericlymenum suecicum; Eurasian Dwarf Cornel or Bunchberry). Northern Eurasia, locally in extreme northeast and northwest North America.
o Cornus × unalaschkensis (hybrid C. canadensis × C. suecica). Aleutian Islands, Greenland, Labrador.
* (Sub)genus Benthamidia (syn. subgenus Dendrobenthamia, subgenus Cynoxylon). Flowering dogwoods; five species of trees, divisible into two subgroups (Benthamidia, with individual drupes, and Dendrobenthamia, with the drupes coalaced into a compound fruit[4]).
o Cornus capitata (Benthamidia capitata, Dendrobenthamia capitata; Himalayan Flowering Dogwood). Himalaya.
o Cornus florida (Benthamidia florida; Flowering Dogwood). U.S. east of the Great Plains, north to southern Ontario.
o Cornus hongkongensis (Benthamidia hongkongensis, Dendrobenthamia hongkongensis; Hongkong Dogwood). Southern China, Laos, Vietnam.
o Cornus kousa (Benthamidia kousa, Dendrobenthamia kousa; Kousa Dogwood). Japan and (as subsp. chinensis) central and northern China.
o Cornus nuttallii (Benthamidia nuttallii; Pacific Dogwood). Western North America from British Columbia to California.

Cultural references

The inflorescence of Pacific Dogwood is the official flower of the province of British Columbia. Cornus florida and its inflorescence are the state tree and the state flower respectively for the U.S. Commonwealth of Virginia. It is also the state tree of Missouri and the state flower of North Carolina.

In the Victorian Era, flowers or sprigs of dogwoods were presented to unmarried women by male suitors to signify affection. The returning of the flower conveyed indifference on the part of the woman, however, if she kept it, it became a sign of mutual interest.

In colloquial use in the American Southeast, the term "dogwood winter" may be used to describe a cold snap in spring.


1. ^ 58 species according to Xiang et al. 2006. Taxon 55: 9-30.
2. ^ Vedel, H., & Lange, J. (1960). Trees and Bushes in Wood and Hedgerow. Metheun & Co. Ltd., London.
3. ^ Alice M. Coats, Garden Shrubs and their Histories (1964) 1992, s.v. "Cornus".
4. ^ Rushforth, K. (1999). Trees of Britain and Europe. Collins ISBN 0-00-220013-9.

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