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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

IN BLOOM

Hana mizuki (Dogwood)


Soon everywhere, with glory through and through, The fields will spread with every brilliant hue. But high o'er all the early floral train, Where softness all the arching sky resumes, The dogwood, dancing to the winds' refrain, In stainless glory spreads its snowy blooms.

From "Dogwood Blossoms" by the American poet George Marion McClellan (1860-1934)

Flowering dogwoods are one of America's most beautiful native trees, bearing tiers of graceful blooms in spring. However, what appear to be large white or pink petals are in fact colorful leaves called bracts; the actual, tiny flowers are clustered in the center. Typically these trees grow in mixed woodland and make a glorious sight in spring. Unfortunately an aggressive fungus known as dogwood blight has decimated the American countryside in recent decades. Luckily some trees seem naturally resistant and botanists have been working to find a cure. The American species most usually seen in Japan is Cornus florida, which is native to the eastern United States. It makes a small tree that is ideal for city streets, and in autumn the red fruits and foliage are attractive too. In Tokyo, you can find some special dogwoods in Hibiya Park. In 1915, the citizens of Washington D.C. gave these trees to the city in return for Japan's goodwill present of cherry-blossom trees (the ones that famously bloom along the Potomac River every spring). The timber of dogwood is very hard, and over the centuries it has been used for making things as diverse as daggers, knitting needles, piano keys and golf clubs. Despite its name, dogwood has no connection with dogs: the name is probably a corruption of "dagwood" from the ancient word "dag," meaning "tool.'



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