Cornus Florida. Dogwood.

Botanical name: 

Table 03. Cornus florida. Large flowered Cornel; Dog-tree; Box-tree; New-England Box-wood; in the United States. —Great flowered Dogwood; Florid Dogwood; Male Virginian Dogwood; in England. — Mon-ha-can-ni-min-schi; and Hat-ta-wa-no-min-schi, of the Delaware Indians.

Cornus florida,
Lin. Sp. Pl. p. 171.
Hort. Cliff. 38.
Hort. Ups. 29.
Cold. Noveb. 16.
Wangenh. Ameri p. 51. t. 17. f. 41.
Shoepf, Mat. Med. Am. p. 14.
L'Herit. Corn. n. 3. p. 4.
Ait. Hort. Kew. ed. 2d vol. 1. p. 261.
Marshall, Arbust. p. 35, 36.
Bartram's Trav. p. 401.
Walk. Inaug. Dis. Barton's Collections, ed. 3d. vol. 1. p. 12, 47. vol. 2. p. 17.
Mich. Fl. Boreali-Am. 1. p. 91.
Mich. f. Hist, des Arb. Fores, vol. 3. p. 138.
Catesb. Car. 1. 27.
Pur. Fl. Am. sep. 1. p. 108.
Schmidt, Arb. t. 62.
Bot. Mag. 526.
Pers. Syn. vol. 1. p. 143.
Willd. Sp. Pl. p. 661.
Roy. Lugdb. 249.
Gron. Virg. 17.
Kalm. it. 2. p. 321. et 3. p. 104.
Mill. Dict. n. 3.
Du Roi Harbk. tom. 1. p. 167.
Pluk. Alm. 120.
Clayt. n. 57.
Walt. Car. p. 88.
Pict. Reg. 43. p. 3349.
Basseporte- Muhl. Cat. Am. Sep. p. 17.
Bart. Fl. Virg. p. 45.
Coxe's Am. Disp. p. 290. 2d ed. 286.
Thatch. Disp. p. 114.
Pharm. Mass. Med. Soc. p. 13.
Barton's Prodr. Fl. Phil. p. 26.
Elliot, Car. &c p. 207.
Nuttall, Genera of American Plants, p. 96.


Gen. Plant. 194.

Cornus. Cal. Superus, 4-dentatus, deciduus. Drupa nuce 2-bilocularis.
Nat. Syst. Juss. Caprifolia. Classis XI. Ordo HI.

Cornus. T. L. * Cornuiller. Calix 4-dentatus. Petala 4 parva, basi latiora. Stamina 4 iisdem alterna, antherae incumbentes. Stylus 1.; Stigma 1. Drupa parva, non coronata, foeta nuce 2-loculari 2-sperma. Arbuscula aut fructices; folia opposita basi nuda, in unica specie alterna; flores in aliis corymbosi terminates foliis tardiores, in aliis praecociores umbellati aut capitati involucro communi 4-phyllo, interdum magno colorato. Corculum seminis longum, perisperrao carnoso involutum. Gen. Pi. Juss. p. 214. ed. 1789.

Nat. Ord. Lin. Stellatae.
Classis Tetrandria. Ordo Monogynia. Lin. Syst.

Cornus florida, foliis ovalibus, acuminatis, subtus albicantibus; floribus sessiliter capitatis; involucro maximo, foliis apice deformi quasi obcordatis; fructibus ovatis, rubris. Mich. fil. Hist, des Arb Forest. Am. vol. 3. p. 138. et Mich. Fl. Bor. Am. 1. p. 91.

Cornus florida: arborea; foliis ovatis acuminatis, subtus albicantibus; involucro maximo, foliolis obcordatis; drupis brevi-ovatis, coccineis, apice nigris. Bart. Fl. Virg. Gron. p. 45.

Cornus florida: arborea; foliis ovatis acuminatis, involucris magnis quasi obcordatis, drupis ovatis. Willd. Sp. Pl. 1. p. 661.


Cornus arborea involucro maximo, foholis obcordatis. Lin. Cliff. 38. Spec. 171.
Cornus mas Virginiana, flosculis in corymbo digestis a perianthio tetrapetalo albo radiatim cinctis. Pluk Aim. 120. t. 2. f. 3. Catesb. Car. 1. t. 27.
Cornus mas floribus quasi in corymbo digestis, perianthio albo e quatuor foliis composito radiatim expanso cinctis. Clayt. n. 57. Houttuyn Lin. Pfl. Syst. 1. p. 237.
Schonblühender Hartriegel. >Villd. (German.)
Habitat in Sylvis Sep. Am. ♄.
Pharm. Corni floridae Cortex, (caulis et radicis); Gemmse; Flores:
Qual. Amara. tonica.
Vis. Adstringens. Gemmar. carminativa.
Usus. Febres intermittentes. Ligni usus mechanicus.
Decoct. Corni, a decocto corticis peruviani gustu vix discernendum; Intermittentes aeque certo curat ac Cort. Peruv. Vires addita Serp. Virg. acuuntur. Rad. Sassaf. et Cort. Corni aa ℥vj. Coqu. cum aquae libris viii. ad remanetiam lb. i. ad ulcera cancrosa, maligna tepide et frequenter applicata, prodest. Shoepf. Mat. Med. Am. p. 14.
Arbor parva, conspicua involucris florum maximis colosatis. fructibus rubri. Ineunte frondescentia floret. L'Hert. Cor. 3

Dogwood is so common throughout the United States, that it is well known to most people. It is the largest tree of its genus, and indeed attains such an height, that it is described by Michaux the younger, in his elegant work on the forest-trees of North America. Its wood, its flowers, and its bark, the latter entitling it to a place in this work, render it an extremely interesting tree. The name by which it is generally known throughout the United States, is that of Dogwood; it is recognized less frequently by that of Boxwood. But it is also known in different states, and even in different parts of the same state, by the various other names enumerated at the head of this article. Michaux f. in the work alluded to, informs us, that in the state of Massachusetts, between the 42d and 43d degrees of latitude, the Dogwood is first observed; and that it is afterwards found without interruption in all the eastern and western states, as well as in the Floridas as far as the Mississippi. He remarks that in all this tract of country, it is the most abundant of all the arborescent vegetables 5 but that it is comparatively most plenty in New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, wherever the soil is new, unequal and gravelly. More to the south, in the two Carolinas, Georgia and the Floridas, it is only seen on the borders of marshes, and not in the pine-barrens, where the soil is too sandy and arid for it to grow. In the more fertile portions of Kentucky, and the eastern section of Tennessee, it does not grow abundantly among the forest trees, but is only found where the soil is stony and indifferent. [Michaux, fil. Arbres Forest.] According to Michaux, the Cornus florida sometimes attains the height of 30 and 35 feet, and a diameter of 9 and 10 inches. It is usually, however, 18 or 20 feet high, by 4 or 5 inches in diameter. The trunk is strong, invested with a rough blackish bark, which is tolerably thick, and very much separated into fissures or cracks. The branches are numerous, spreading, and disposed regularly; being sometimes opposite to each other, and occasionally arising by fours. Michaux remarks, that the younger branches take a semicircular direction upwards. The leaves are about three inches in length; opposite, oval, entire, acuminated, slightly glaucous or whitish underneath, and presenting on their upper surface many conspicuous ridges. Towards the end of summer they become speckled with black dots, and on the approach of winter turn to a dull red colour. Michaux informs us, that in the states of New-York and New-Jersey, the flowers of this tree are fully opened about the tenth or fifteenth of May, at which time the leaves only begin to be developed. In Pennsylvania the tree is in full bloom about the 15th of May, in ordinary seasons. It flowers very regularly; so much so, that it is said by the late Professor Barton, ["Collections," &c.] that formerly "some of our southern tribes were accustomed to name the spring season from its flowering." The flowers are terminal on the little branches. They are small, of a greenish-yellow colour, and aggregated in numbers. They are garnished with an involucre from three to four inches large, which surrounds them. This involucre is composed of four large obcordate folioles, of a fleshy or coriaceous texture. They are white, sometimes tinged with violet. The outer extremity of each foliole is notched, having the appearance of disease or injury. The notches are purplish, or dusky rose coloured. I have understood that there is an individual variety of this tree in the woods near Philadelphia, having bright red or rose coloured involucres. This variety, which I have not seen, must be an exceedingly magnificent tree, and highly ornamental. It is to the large involucres that the flowers of this cornel owe their character for elegance. When Dogwood is in full flower, it is a strikingly beautiful tree, and very ornamental to the forests; the more so, from the early period of its flowering. The calix is monophyllous, small, and four-toothed. It is deciduous, never continuing until the berries are ripe. The corolla is composed of four petals. The stamens are four in number, and equal. Pistil one, consisting of a roundish germ, beneath. The style filiform, and nearly the length of the corolla. Stigma obtuse.

The flowers are succeeded by oblong berries, of a rich, shining, crimson or carmine colour; always collected together to the number of three and four, as has been remarked by Michaux, and as I also have often observed. They are ripe about the middle of September; and are then eagerly devoured by different birds, such particularly as the Turdus migratorius, or Robin; the Turdus rufus, or Thrush; and I have sometimes seen the rare bird called Woodthrush, Turdus minor, employed busily in eating them. It must be a food peculiarly grateful to this melodious little songster, to induce it to leave its favourite and almost constant haunts, the summits of the tallest forest trees.

Chemical Analysis.

From the chemical investigation of the properties of the cornels, made by Dr. Walker, [Inaugural Dissertation, p. 24 and 25.] it appears: that upon distilling equal quantities of the pulverised bark of the root of Cornus florida and sericea, and of red Peruvian bark, a fluid was obtained from the latter, differing from that procured by the two former in no respect, but in possessing a flavour, not aromatic, but peculiar to the bark. The fluid was clear and transparent. It appears further, that upon subjecting these materials to a second distillation, the fluids obtained had a more disagreeable smell than those from the first, and a taste somewhat acerb. The fluid yielded by the Corni acquired a lemon colour; that from the Peruvian Bark was tinged with red. The following results are given by Dr. Walker, of the changes which took place upon testing these different fluids:

The fluid distilled from

With litmus paper. Oxy-sulphate. Ace. Lead. Carb. Alumen
Corn. flor. Red. Black.Precipitate.Effervescence.
theCorn. seri.Red. Black.Precipitate.Effervescence.
Cort. Peru.Red. Brown.Precipitate.Slight Effervescence.

The inference deduced from this experiment is, that gallic acid is contained in the three substances used, and that it exists in greater quantity in the Corni than in the Bark. The gallic acid also comes over in distillation, in an uncombined state. A decoction of the bark of the root of Cornus florida, yields by evaporation, a gum-like mass. Two drams of this gum were obtained by Dr. Walker, from seven and an half ounces of the decoction. With a view to ascertain the constituent parts of this mass, the doctor "macerated two drams in successive quantities of alcohol, until the last portion ceased to be changed in colour and taste; this, like the former portions, was separated from the gum by the filter; after the gum was dried upon the filter it was collected, and weighed only half a dram. The dried gum was then dissolved in a small quantity of water. The solution was imperfect, not transparent, nor bright coloured; it possessed no particular taste, which might not be ascribed to its viscid consistence; and it produced no change of colour with a solution of the oxy-sulphate of iron." Suspecting, from the want of transparency, that there might be some mucilage in the solution, the doctor "added in small portions, diluted sulphuric acid to the solution; a precipitate slowly fell to the bottom in a coagulated form. When the precipitation had ceased, it was separated from the solution by the filter, and evaporated to dryness, at the same time with the solution. By weighing each residuum, the mucilage was detected in the proportion of three to five; that is, eighteen grains of gum, and twelve of mucilage." [Inaugural Dissertation, p. 24 and 25.] Observing the solution to turn dark by the addition of the acid, Dr. Walker inferred that the want of transparency in the gummy solution, was not entirely owing to the prescence of the mucilage; but "to the fine powder of the medicine, which the viscidity of the fluid suspended and concealed; and probably the change of colour noticed above, was owing to the carbonation of these particles by the acid." [Inaugural Diss. p. 25.] The Cornus florida contains more extract and gum, than the Peruvian bark, and is more soluble in water; while the latter, containing more resin, is more easily soluble in alcohol. The powder of the bark of Cornus florida is more miscible in water than that of the Cinchona, for the same reason. [Ibid. p. 28.]

It appears from a summary of Dr. Walker's experiments, that the Dogwood and Peruvian Bark possess the same ingredients: gum, mucilage, and extract; and that the last contains the gallic acid, and tannin, though in different proportions. The Dogwood possesses most of the gum, mucilage and extract; and the Peruvian Bark, the most resin. The extract and resin possess all their active virtues; the extract all their tonic power. The resin when separated from the extract, is stimulant only; and probably the tonic power of the extract is increased, when combined with a portion of the resin, as in the spirituous tincture. [Ibid. p. 29.]

Medical Properties.

The similarity between the Dogwood and the Peruvian bark, in their sensible qualities, their chemical analysis, and their action on the incised and dead fibre, (as shown in the experiments of Dr. Walker) sufficiently proves an identity in their medicinal effects. And actual experience with the bark of the Cornus florida, by many physicians, entitles it to be ranked among the best tonics of our country. As early as the year 1787, Schoepf was acquainted with the medicinal virtues of this tree; and he speaks of it as a bitter and a tonic, as well as of its use in intermittent fevers. The bark is likewise astringent. Dogwood is also a stimulant; for according to Dr. Walker's experiments, the internal use of it, always rendered the pulse quicker than natural, and often fuller and stronger. [Inaugural Diss. p. 46] Professor Barton remarks, speaking of the two cornels; "I can add but little from my own experience concerning the application of these two species of Cornus to the cure of diseases. I believe, however, that it may, with entire safety, be asserted, that as yet we have not discovered within the limits of the United States, any vegetables which have been found so effectually to answer the purpose of the Peruvian bark, in the management of intermittent fevers, as the Cornus florida and Cornus sericea." ["Collections," &c.] It appears from the account given by the late Dr. Amos Gregg of Bristol, of the use of the Dogwood in decoction, that it produced pain in the bowels, which however was readily relieved by a few drops of laudanum. He believed this property of inducing pain was confined to the article in its recent state; and he further observes, that he never found it to disagree with the stomach, by exciting cathartic or emetic effects, after it was a year collected. Dr. Gregg says he <; used the Dogwood twenty-three years, during which time he found its virtue such as to convince him it was not inferior to the Peruvian bark in curing intermittents, nor inferior as a corroborant, in all cases of debility." [Walker's Inaugural. Diss. p. 49.] He gave the powder in doses of thirty-five grains. This quantity he found equal to thirty grains of the Peruvian bark. In some cases he combined the Dogwood with the Virginian snake-root, in the proportion of thirty grains of the former and six of the latter; repeated every half hour for two days. He concludes his communication to Dr. Walker with this observation: "I have often used the Dogwood joined with Gentian, Columbo, Camomile, and with Aromatics in bitters, and have found it equal to the Peruvian bark, and therefore conclude it is a valuable medicine." [Inaug. Diss. p. 49. ] Dogwood has also been used in combination with the bark of the Liriodendron tulipifera, or tulip-tree, both in decoction and in substance. The bark of the root, stem, and smaller branches, is used. That of the root is by some thought most efficacious. An infusion of the ripe berries in spirit has been used in intermittent fevers. We learn that our Indians use an infusion of the flowers for the same purpose; hence we may infer, that these are possessed of the same tonic property as the bark. This infusion of the flowers has been recommended in flatulent colic; and Dr. Barton says he has used it as a tea. [Barton's Collections.] The Professor also mentions from the information of the Rev. Dr. Nicholas Collin, of Philadelphia, that in an intermittent fever which prevailed in West Jersey, about thirty years ago, the bark of the Dogwood was found more useful than the Peruvian bark. It was used in decoction. Dr. Barton upon this subject makes this remark: "I must candidly confess, however, that I have heard of more instances of the failure of this cornel than of the Peruvian bark. But has any vegetable," he continues, "so completely prevented the recurrence of the paroxisms of intermittents as the last mentioned one." ["Collections," &c.]

Michaux in his work on the forest-trees of North America, has noticed the medicinal properties of this tree. He speaks of the liber or inner bark being a fine bitter, and very useful in intermittent fevers. The taste of Dogwood, like that of the other medicinal species, is "a more simple and agreeable bitter than the Peruvian bark; it has nevertheless considerable austerity combined with it; the decoction possesses most of the latter, and the hot triturated infusion the next. The decoction and hot infusion are less elegant preparations. The hot menstruum holds in suspension some of the fine powder, which is not entirely deposited by cooling, nor in passing through the filter." [Walker's Inaug. Diss. p. 23.]

From all the information I can collect on this subject, and no indigenous plant has excited more attention, I am disposed to believe: that as a tonic, the powdered bark of Cornus florida, is well entitled to the notice of physicians; and it certainly may be safely recommended as a good substitute for the cinchona, particularly as that which now fills the shops, is seldom genuine, but adulterated by oakbark, and frequently altogether a fictitious article. I have never used the Dogwood, in any form as a medicine, and therefore call the attention of our physicians to it, entirely on the authority of those who have written on the article, and frequently employed it. I know it is much used in different parts of the United States, and I have uniformly heard its virtues commended. Its superior miscibility or solubility in water, to the Peruvian bark, may occasionally render its use more convenient than this last substance.

Oeconomical Use.

The wood of the Cornus florida is of a very fine texture, hard, compact, heavy, exceedingly durable, and susceptible of a beautiful polish. Hence it is much used by cabinet-makers and joiners, for ornamental in-laying. The sap is white, and the heart chocolate colour. This wood answers very well for plane-stocks, squares, two-foot rules, mallets, and for the handles of gimblets, gauges, hand-chissels, and other light tools. Indeed its properties so nearly resemble those of box-wood, that it may be profitably substituted for it in almost all its common uses; and in these it is improved in appearance by a faint stain of yellow dye. This gives it the exact resemblance of box. I have no doubt, that if it were felled at the proper time, and well-seasoned, it would answer extremely well for flageoletts, fifes, childrens' whistles, and all the humbler kinds of wind-instruments. Michaux remarks that for whatever purpose it may be destined, it should not be worked up till thoroughly dry; otherwise it is apt to split. The moderate size of the tree will always circumscribe the employment of its wood, to the various uses I have mentioned. Michaux, who has so industriously enquired into the ceconomical uses of the wood of our forest trees, says some farmers make the teeth of their harrows, and the fastenings of the collars of their horses, of this wood. That the young shoots, four or five years old, are used for light hoops on little kegs; but its use in this latter way he says is very limited. That in the middle states they use the wood in mills, for the cogs of the wheels; and in many parts of the country the peasantry make forked collars for their hogs, to keep them from penetrating beyond the fences which enclose the cultivated fields, of the Dogwood, the branches of which are naturally scattered. The wood is excellent for burning, he remarks, but its small size does not render it saleable for this purpose in the large cities. [Arbres Forests]

The wood of the Cornus florida is much used by Dentists, in the insertion of artificial teeth; and the young branches stripped of their bark, and rubbed with their ends against the teeth, render them extremely white. The Creole negroes who inhabit Norfolk in Yin ginia, in great numbers, are in the constant practice of substituting the Dogwood twigs, for a West India shrub, in cleansing their teeth. The striking whiteness of these, which I have frequently observed, is a proof of the efficacy of the practice. The application of the juice of these twigs to the gums, is also useful in preserving them hard and sound.

The powdered bark of Dogwood makes a good ink, which was used by Dr. Walker, in writing his thesis. The following is the formula.

1/2 oz. Pulv. Cort. Cor. flor.
2 dr. Sulph. Iron.
2 sc. Gum. Arab.
16 oz. Aqua font.
Mixed together.

The ripe berries infused in spirit or brandy, afford an excellent wine-bitter, for common purposes [Barton's Collections] and as a morning bitter. A decoction of the bark of Dogwood has been employed with good effect in a malignant fever, called the "yellow water," "Canada distemper,"&c. which, within the last twelve years has carried off a great number of horses in the United States. [Ibid.]

Table III.

Fig. 1. Represents a flowering twig of Dogwood, at which time the young leaves are small.
Fig. 2. The fruit and leaves of autumn.
Fig. 3. A single flower, with stamens, petals, and calix.
Fig. 4. The calix and pistil.

Vegetable Materia Medica of the U.S. or Medical Botany, 1817 (Vol. I), 1818 (Vol. II), was written by William P. C. Barton, M. D.