According to long standing legend the dogwood once rivaled the oak in statue, and it was the dogwood tree that provided the wood used to build the cross on which Jesus was crucified. It is said that God both cursed and blessed the tree. It was cursed to forever be small, so that it would never grow large enough again for its wood to be used as a cross for a crucifixion. At the same time, however, the tree was blessed so that it would produce beautiful flowers each spring, just in time for Easter. To remember God's promise to the tree it is said he gave it a few traits so that whoever looks upon it will never forget.
The petals of the dogwood actually form the shape of a cross. The middle of the Dogwood flower has a tight grouping of resembling a "crown of thorns" and the tips of each of the petals are indented, as if they bear a nail dent. There are even colors in the petals that bring to mind the drops of blood that spilled during the crucifixion.
Although the actual flower on this understory tree is insignificant the four white petal-like bracts surrounding the flower is quite showy. One of the best known trees in Jefferson County and Appalachia this tree can be used as a specimen plant or for naturalized areas. Its common name derives from its old use as a treatment of mange in dogs and because the small limbs of the trees were used to make skewers which were once known as dags or dogs.
The Quaker Botanist William Bartram sold significant amounts of these trees and took note of a grove of them in 1791 that extended unbroken for 10 miles. George Washington has a circle of dogwoods surrounding a Redbud planted at his home, Mount Vernon. Native Americans used the bark and roots to cure malaria and the berries to make red dye. Wm. R. Peters & Company advertised in the Steubenville paper in 1856 “wooden rakes, tool handles, mallets, boxes, and cutting blocks made of the finest dogwood” at their store at 177 Markets Street in Steubenville.
The tree is a host plant for 111 species of butterflies and moths in the Jefferson County. Birds flock to dogwoods for their berries, good nesting branches, and large quantity of caterpillars. ■