Dogwood trees are a joy for home gardeners due to their manageable size and availability in all seasons. However, these trees with slender, twisted trunks and beautiful flowers have a religious significance as well. Here, we tell you about the symbolism of dogwood trees.
Did You Know?
Trees of Cornus genus acquired their name Dog-tree in 1548, which was later translated to Dogwood tree and Hound’s tree by 1614. These trees were once known as Whipple trees.
The mention of dogwood trees can be found in the works of several authors, old and new. One of the greatest English poets Geoffrey Chaucer mentions the tree as a whipple tree in The Knight’s Tale from his famous long poem The Canterbury Tales. American novelist John Updike gave the name of this tree to his memoir The Dogwood Tree published in 1962. Recently in 2002, Amer Book Publishing came out with Gred Cicio’s Seeds of the Dogwood Tree.
An ancient Roman poet Virgil mentions the tree in the book 3 of his most famous poem Aeneid, where the protagonist of the poem Aeneas cuts the tree to find dark blood dripping from its wood. Later, Aeneas discovers that the tree had the spirit of a son of a king. A similar depiction of the dogwood tree is also seen in an old Christian legend.
◆ A legend talks about this tree growing near Jerusalem. Supposedly, the trees were dogwood trees, though slightly different in appearance. Those dogwood trees were larger, taller, and mightier than the dogwood trees we see today. The wood from those trees was used to make crosses to punish criminals. As the legend goes, a thick, strong, and fine dogwood trunk was used to create the cross for Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.
The legend goes further to say that the tree felt distressed because of the way its trunk was used. Christ, sensing the tree’s suffering and embarrassment, changed its strong form so that no one could use it for making crosses in the future.
The legend is beautifully described in a poem by an unknown writer:
In Jesus’ time, the dogwood grew
To a stately size and a lovely hue.
‘Twas strong and firm, its branches interwoven.
For the cross of Christ its timbers were chosen.
Seeing the distress at this use of their wood
Christ made a promise which still holds good:
“Never again shall the dogwood grow
Large enough to be used so.
Slender and twisted, it shall be
With blossoms like the cross for all to see.
As blood stains the petals marked in brown,
The blossom’s center wears a thorny crown.
All who see it will remember Me
Crucified on a cross from the dogwood tree.
Cherished and protected, this tree shall be
A reminder to all of My agony.”
In some versions of the legend, it is said that God cursed the dogwood trees after the crucifixion of Christ. However, all the versions of this legend claim that the form of dogwood trees has changed ever since.
Dogwood trees became shorter. The tree trunks became twisted and slender. Every flower of a dogwood tree, now has only four petals, which symbolize four points of a cross. On each petal corner, there are nail-like markings. The stamen in the center of the flower symbolizes the Jesus’ Crown of Thorns. The whole tree has become a symbol of crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
◆ In a myth concerning dogwood trees, Cherokee Indians, people of a native American tribe believed that there are little people residing in these trees. The legend has it that these little people protect babies and old people.
◆ According to another legend, dogwood trees were Adam’s favorites in the Garden of Eden. The devil is said to have climbed the tree and damaged its blossom. However, when the flower turned into an image of a cross, he could only bite the edges of the flowers. Therefore the flowers grew spikes in their center to keep the devil away from Eden.
Symbolic Meaning of a Dogwood Tree
◆ Life, Rebirth, and Rejuvenation
Dogwood trees symbolize life. The dogwood blossom that springs every Spring indicates the end of winter (death) and the beginning of a new life.
◆ Joy and Beauty
Dogwood trees also represent joy and beauty that a new life or rebirth brings.
◆ Purity and Innocence
The color white represents purity and innocence. Likewise, the white blossom of dogwood trees represents the purity of Christ.
◆ Love and Affection
In the Victorian era, a male suitor would offer flowers from dogwood trees to an unmarried woman to proclaim his affection for her.
◆ Fulfilling a Promise
The twisted and small branches of dogwood trees symbolize the promise that Jesus Christ gave the tree to avoid its use in making crosses. The trees represent the gesture of keeping promises.
This symbolic meaning of dogwood trees comes from the lasting quality of the dogwood tree wood.
The four petals with rusty-looking edges symbolize the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified.
◆ The Crown of Thorns
The spiked stamen that can be found at the center of the dogwood flowers symbolizes the Crown of Thorns worn by Christ at the time of crucifixion.
◆ Pity and Empathy
This meaning of the trees might have originated from the Christian legend.
Pink dogwood flowers are considered to be blushing with shame for the cruel use of the tree’s trunk in making the cross to crucify Christ.
In the fall season, dogwood trees cover themselves in blood-like red leaves. Those red leaves represent Jesus Christ’s blood spilled at Cavalry. The red color of the fruit is also considered as the innocent blood spilled.
Dogwood trees symbolize a range of emotions. The changing colors of dogwood trees through different seasons, can be taken as a symbol of the cycle of life. Like Anne Morrow Lindbergh had said, “After all, I don’t see why I am always asking for private, individual, selfish miracles when every year there are miracles like white dogwood.”