The flowering dogwood tree (Cornus florida) grows abundantly throughout the state of North Carolina, from the high mountain regions to the coastline. It is the prevalence of this flowering tree that earned its designation as the state flower of North Carolina. It was officially adopted as the state flower in 1941 by the North Carolina General Assembly.
Many people assume that the white (or sometimes pink) petals that appear on the flowering dogwood in early spring are the flowers of the tree. This isn't entirely true. The four white "petals" are actually bracts and the true flowers can be found in the center. A tiny cluster of green or yellow flowers can be found nestled in the center of the bracts. To the observer, these tiny flowers make up the eye of the flower.
You may be surprised to learn that according to some sources, the dogwood's name has nothing to do with loveable canines. They claim that its name is derived from the Old English term "dag" or "dagwood" which referred to strong wood used to make a "dagge", a pointed wooden tool.
Other sources claim the dogwood's claim to fame was hidden its bark. Reportedly, boiling the bark of the dogwood tree provided a natural remedy for bathing dogs with mange. This soon gave rise to the use of the term dogwood when referring to the tree. Some even claim that misinformed dog owners assumed that because the tree was called a dogwood that it must be good for dogs. Like the chicken and the egg conundrum, it is difficult to determine which came first the use of dogwood bark to bath dogs with mange or the name of dogwood that lead man to think it was good for his dog.
According to Christian legend, the dogwood tree was used to make the cross that Christ was crucified on. Seeing the poor tree distressed by being forced to bear such a horrendous deed, Christ took pity on the tree. Christ declared the dogwood tree would never grow large enough to be used as a cross to crucify man again and that it would bear witness of its solemn past by producing flowers in the shape of a cross, with two long and two short petals, and in the center would grow a crown of thorns.
Native American legend claims that a tiny race of people called the Dogwood People lived in the forest and watched over both the infants and the elderly. The Dogwood People brought good luck and believed in doing good for others.
Today, dogwood trees are grown mostly for ornamental purposes. They prefer full sun with some afternoon shade and moist, well-drained, acidic soil. They grow to heights of 15 to 30 feet with a low, flat canopy. They are hardy in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5 through 9 and are native to Eastern North America.