With Billy still in North Carolina, John and George changed venues from the east shore of Lake Okeechobee to the east shore of the Palm Beach County Solid Waste Authority. Seriously, take a hike at the dump!
The flora and critters there are diverse and interesting, so picking a featured species was controversial. The Swamp Dogwood was in full bloom, making it necessary to address the question of why Dogwood is called Dogwood. Now, if you believe what you find on Google, it comes from “dag” wood, because the wood made “daggers,” or cattle prods. That is credible because the wood is hard, tough, and pretty. George carves archery bows, and made one of a stave of Pacific Dogwood. Took months, and yielded a beautiful bow, which snapped in a brittle moment, perhaps a victim of Anthracnose? (See below.) The wood has served for tennis racquets and heads of golf clubs. George worked long ago as a commercial loom operator and owns (but can’t find) an antique dogwood loom shuttle tough as nails.
Dogwoods are examples of the once-continuous forest around the northern hemisphere, broken up over the eons by climate and environmental change leaving pockets of floristic similarity especially in eastern Asian and in the eastern U.S. with additional remnants in Europe and occasionally along the U.S. Pacific Coast. Dogwoods inhabit all of those places. Four species are native to Florida, only one in our area.
The genus Cornus has about 60 species. Perhaps the most famous and showiest is the Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida, which does occur in Florida. This gorgeous species and others suffer from an introduced destructive fungal “Dogwood Anthracnose” disease. The disease appeared first in the Pacific and in the Northeast in the 70s and early 80s. By the early 90s, Dogwoods in some areas were devastated. So far—as far as we know—the fungus has spared Florida.
Here is a little trick to identify Dogwoods in the field. First of all, most species have opposite leaves with beautiful curved veins. Snap a leaf and gently pull the two pieces apart. In Dogwoods thin threads will cross the gap and bind the two halves together.
Today’s species, Swamp Dogwood, has white starry flowers in showy clustered, followed by more or less blue “berries” (drupes) not fit for human consumption but is food for the birds and wildlife. (This post is a collaborative effort by John Bradford and George Rogers.)