Pacific Dogwood

Pacific Dogwood, FOC Photo

(Cornus nuttallii)

Physical Characteristics: A deciduous tree that averages 40 feet in height and 25 feet wide at maturity. Many branches give the tree an irregular look. Flowers are greenish, tipped with purple, and grow in tight clusters surrounded by four to seven large, showy, white bracts. Clusters of bright red, drupe-shaped, half-inch long berries follow the flowers and ripen in October. Leaves are elliptical, sharp-pointed at the tip and tapered at the base, with slightly wavy margins. The green leaves turn a pinkish-red in autumn before falling.

Habitat: This species prefers low elevations of moist, well-drained sites, often along streams or gullies, in open to fairly dense, usually mixed forest.

Range:  As its name suggests, this tree is native to the Pacific coast from southern British Columbia to northern California. In the Clearwater Basin, along the lower Lochsa and Selway Rivers, the inland population of Pacific Dogwood is classified as a coastal-disjunct species, meaning it was once part of a continuous coastal habitat that is now separated by the Cascade mountain range. The Clearwater is the only place in the world where this species occurs inland.

Reproduction: The Pacific Dogwood flowers in spring and occasionally repeats in early fall. Trees can be propagated by cuttings, from seed, or from bare root.

Threats: The introduced fungal disease dogwood anthracnose has devastated the Idaho populations of Pacific Dogwood since first noted in 1976. Climate change may potentially alter the natural climatic range of the species, and habitat loss due to deforestation is a persistent menace to this unique tree. The Forest Service recognizes the Pacific Dogwood population in Idaho as a threatened species.

Miscellaneous: Indigenous people used the close-grained, extremely hard wood for bows, arrows, tool handles, and hooks. Because of its tannin, the bark was boiled for a rich, dark brown dye and also used as a preservative. Branches were woven into baskets. Medicinally, preparations from Pacific Dogwood were used as a blood purifier, for strengthening lungs, and as a treatment for stomach ailments. The blossom of the Pacific Dogwood is the floral emblem of British Columbia.


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