Posted February 3rd, 2012
by Richard Savage
Walking through Lower Lakes on this beautiful frosty sunny morning in February (the temperature dropped to -7C last night), I was arrested by the sight of the red stems of the Siberian Dogwood growing on the bank outside Oak Lodge.
Siberian Dogwood bush on the bank outside of Oak Lodge, Lower Lakes
The Siberian or Red Dogwood genus, Cornus alba , was introduced from Siberia in 1741, though it also grows in China & Korea, and is a deciduous, upright-growing shrub with dark green leaves and bearing umbelliform (umbrella-like) clusters of small white flowers in spring and early summer, followed by small white berries, hence the name alba, meaning white. The generic name Cornus, meaning a horn, describes the hardness of the wood, and also gives its name to the Dogwood Family, Cornaceae. It is often grown for its brilliant crimson stems, which are at their best on sunny winter days.
Although it was planted here 4 years ago, it was only this morning that I really appreciated how attractive its red stems are, when the shrub is devoid of leaves, and the red colour stands out against the frosty green background of grass.
Close up of the red stems of the Siberian Dogwood
For horticulturalists there are many cultivars and hybrids of the two red-stemmed dogwood species, Cornus alba and Cornus sericea, with barks that are coloured shades of red, orange, yellow, plum, and dark purple, and leaves that are green, yellow, or variegated with white and green.
The rough bark of older stems is not so attractive, so it is recommended to cut these to the ground at the end of winter, before the leaves open, to encourage young shoots. Stems also layer on the ground and root to produce new growth, so these can be transplanted to other areas. Because it is a water-loving plant, and even flourishes in thick clay soils that are prone to seasonal flooding, stems can be cut off and put in water in a sunny spot indoors, and will produce roots which can then be potted when about 1 inch long.
It is interesting to find out how the dogwood got its name. Some say it was originally called “dagwood”, because the solid wooden twigs made good “dags” or meat skewers, or even daggers. During the 19th century dogwood sticks were used to make high-speed smooth, shock-resistant shuttles in the textile industry. The durable wood was used for hay forks, rake teeth, small wheel hubs and more recently pipes, bowls, engravers’ blocks and golf club heads..
Another story about the origin of the name is that it was because the bark when boiled in water was used to wash dogs with mange, a mite infestation of their skin (Sarcoptes spp. causing scabies) or hair follicles (Demodex spp. causing demodicosis).
Medicinally there is an alkaloid in the bark that has a similar action to quinine, and was used by the North American Indians to treat malaria. It is reported to have made a very effective substitute for quinine in the American Civil War.
You must be logged in to post a comment.
- Lower Lakes - Straight Drove- Chilton Trinity TA5 2BQ - Somerset - England- Telephone: 01278 - 433066- Mobile: 0752 666 84 92 - Email: click here