cornus alba sibirica and green yellow stems of C. flavirameaCornus is a genus of about 30- 60 species of woody trees and shrubs, commonly known as dogwoods. Most are deciduous, but a few are more like herbaceous perennials (subshrubs) and some are evergreen. Cornus is the latin word for ‘horn’ referring to the hardness of the wood.

The name “dog-tree” was recorded in 1548, and this had changed to “dogwood” by 1614. After this the plants soon became known as the Hound’s Tree, while the fruits came to be known as dogberries or houndberries (the latter is also the name given to the fruits of the black nightshade- alluding to Hecate’s hounds).

The plants may have become known as ‘dogwoods’ from the Old English word dagwood, which refers to the ways it’s slender stems of very hard wood were used to make “dags” (daggers, skewers, and arrows).

Another, earlier name of the dogwood in English is the whipple-tree. Chaucer refers to the “whippletree” in The Canterbury Tales (‘The Knight’s Tale- verse 2065). A whippletree is also a part of a horse – drawn cart; the link between the drawpole of the cart and the harnesses of the horses lined up behind one another, and commonly carved from the Whippletree or Dogwood.

Some of the Cornus species names are:

C. alba = white

C. canadensis = of Canada

C. candidissima = very white- the flowers

C. capitata = headed- the grouping of flowers

C. florida = flowering richly

C. fragifera = strawberry-like – the fruits

C. glabrata = glabrous

C. kousa = a japanese name

C. mas = male (mascula of Linnaeus)

C. nuttallii = after Nuttall

C. sanguinea = blood-red- the twigs

Cornus are either grown for their flowers, interesting leaves (some both of interest during summer and autumn) or for their colourful winter stems. These are just coming into their own in winter gardens around Britain – including Old School Garden. I have several groups of C. alba ‘Sibirica’, C. sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ and C. sericea ‘Flaviramea’ (some grown easily from hardwood cuttings). I ‘stool’ these (i.e. cut the stems to the base) each spring to encourage new growth, which once the leaves have fallen (these are also very colourful in the autumn), reveals bright red, orange and yellow- green stems, which really glow in the winter sunshine..

Sources and further information:

Wikipedia

Seven Plants for Winter Wonder -article on Old School Garden

Cornus- RHS advice

Cornus- an essential winter shrub- Daily Telegraph

Old School Gardener

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