A journey to Dogwood

Well, not exactly but it has been interesting to learn a little more about the dogwood family, this week or Cornus as botanists might refer to them. Now I'm familiar with the colourful stems of dog woods which liven up the garden in the dull and dreary grey days of winter. Those wonderful shafts of colour like firework trails across the night sky. Reds, yellows, oranges, I've even used their stems for basket weaving in the past.

However, I never really noticed the variety of dogwoods there are around, since opening my eyes to them they are all over the place and in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colours. The ones that sparked this week's interest being large trees and their fascinating flowers and bracts hanging like white handkerchiefs from near horizontal branches.

Indeed they belonged to a Cornus, named the Handkerchief tree, Davidia (actually no longer classified as a Cornus but the Nyssaceae although as ever some dispute over exact taxonomy) - I'm not unfamiliar with this tree having come across it at the famous Batsford Arboretum in Gloucestershire and heard of the famed one in  Kew Gardens brought back by plant hunter Ernest Wilson from its native south, south-west China, despite being ship wrecked in the process.

Originally described by Father Armand David in 1869 - he of many plant and animal discoveries (for instance the Pere David deer), the seeds were highly prized and remain in the collection at Kew to this day.

The tree is stunning and yes, it really does look like someone had tied hundreds of white handkerchiefs to its branches as they flop and waft in the breeze. These trees are popular in parkland settings  and are at their peak in May. In the location I photographed them, they are seriously eye catching in what is a pretty shaded  and wooded valley, not dissimilar I'm guessing to their native environments and they were a buzz with bees and flies of all sorts.

The white flutterings of the bracts gave rise to their other familiar common names, the Dove tree or the Ghost tree, for obvious reasons as they appear to float magically, hovering somewhere between the quickly growing woodland floor now waist height with cow parsley and the quickly closing canopy above.

I was interested to learn also that dogwood berries in particular are favoured by game birds, such as the pheasant (again originating from China), which seems almost fitting for the area where I live is strewn with large country estates and game shooting abounds, so maybe there is some exotic harmony going on here in my little part of Wiltshire, unknown to most.

These trees certainly don't seem so out of place here as you might expect and are definitely really pleasing to see at this time of the year. May be they are a sign of peace in our chaotic world.


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