Dogwoods are quite a show for Milam County

Flowering dogwoods are beautiful trees, and not just in the spring when they cover themselves with those creamy, white flowers. Right now they are sporting starbursts of tiny, red fruit on their limbs. These fruits are food to many animals, from squirrels to deer, and 28 bird species at last counting. Their seeds, having been digested by various creatures, will be dropped, to germinate in the spring.

There are many types of dogwood. The Flowering dogwood, or Cornus florida, is the type we have in Milam County. They don't extend too far past our county to the west, and grow east to the Atlantic, up to Maine. They are an understory, deciduous tree, and can get 20 to 35 feet high. They live up to 80 years.

They grow mainly in the eastern sandy regions of Milam, underneath the branches of Post Oak, living limb-in-limb with Yaupon and American Beautyberry. While the dogwoods prefer moderate moisture, they can survive drought situations. They also tolerate sunny locations, as long as they are protected from the hot afternoon sun.

Dogwoods make great small trees or large shrubs in the landscape because of their yearround beauty. Spring brings their famous white flowers. By late summer/early fall the red fruit clusters appear. As winter approaches, their leaves turn reddish maroon, finally dropping to display graceful twisting branches.

So why is it called a 'dogwood'?

There are two possible reasons, 1) the English used the bark of its cousin, the Bloodtwig dogwood, to rid dogs of fleas; or 2) because of its hard wood, it was used for making "dags," or daggers, hence "dagwood," which evolved into "dogwood." In North America the Native Americans used the dogwood to make scarlet dyes. Its flowers signaled when it was time to plant corn. In the 1700s colonists cultivated it, and used the bark to make a fever reducing tea. The Confederate Army used the bark tea as a quinine substitute to treat malaria. The fruit, however, is poisonous.

A Christian legend says the wood for the cross on which Jesus was crucified came from a dogwood tree. To assure that the tall tree would never be used again for building crosses, Jesus shortened the tree and twisted its branches. The flower's white petals are cross-shaped, with a brownish spot on the ends representing nails. The flower's red stamens represent the crown of thorns, and the red fruit symbolizes his blood.

In the 1970s a fungus, possibly from Asia, began killing Flowering dogwoods along the east coast. By the 1980s, it had reached the Southern states. It has now been found along the west coast, infecting the Western dogwood. The fungus, called Discula destructiva, or dogwood anthracnose, is threatening the survival of wild dogwood in the eastern and southern states.

The fungus is in Texas, but not in the extreme as in states further east. While a practical treatment has not been found for forests, as a homeowner you can control the fungus using a fungicide. The best defense is to plant trees where they receive morning sun in soil that is allowed to dry between waterings.

The fungus symptoms are similar to other fungus. You may see light brown spots with reddish brown borders on the leaves, or black lesions beginning at the leaf tip. To truly identify it as dogwood anthracnose, look for slimy beige fungal spores oozing out of infected lesions during spring.

For more information about dogwood anthracnose, you can visit this site: www.mastergardenproducts. com/gardenerscorner/ savedogwood.htm.

Dogwood seeds sprout easily. I have potted some from the native trees on my property. Hopefully, come springtime I will have dogwood babies to plant. El Camino Real Master Naturalists:

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