The Dogwood Tree
The name "dog-tree" entered the English vocabulary before 1548, becoming "dogwood" by 1614. Once the name dogwood was affixed to this kind of tree, it soon acquired a secondary name as the Hound's Tree, while the fruits came to be known as dogberries or houndberries (the latter a name also for the berries of black nightshade, alluding to Hecate's hounds).
Another theory advances the view that "dogwood" was derived from the Old English dagwood, from the use of the slender stems of its very hard wood for making "dags" (daggers, skewers, and arrows). Another, earlier name of the dogwood in English is the whipple-tree. Geoffrey Chaucer uses "whippletree" in The Canterbury Tales ("The Knight's Tale", verse 2065) to refer to the dogwood. A whippletree is also an element of the traction of a horse-drawn cart, linking the drawpole of the cart to the harnesses of the horses in file; these items still bear the name of the tree from which they are commonly carved.
The poet Virgil makes reference to a haunted copse of cornel and myrtle in Book III of the Aeneid. The hero Aeneas attempts to break off boughs to decorate an altar, but instead the wood drips with black blood. Anne Morrow Lindbergh gives a vivid description of the dogwood tree in her poem "Dogwood".
A Christian legend of unknown origin proclaims that the cross used to crucify Jesus was constructed of dogwood. As the story goes, during the time of Jesus, the dogwood was larger and stronger than it is today and was the largest tree in the area of Jerusalem. After his crucifixion, Jesus changed the plant to its current form: he shortened it and twisted its branches to assure an end to its use for the construction of crosses. He also transformed its inflorescence into a representation of the crucifixion itself, with the four white bracts cross-shaped representing the four corners of the cross, each bearing a rusty indentation as of a nail, the red stamens of the flower representing Jesus' crown of thorns, and the clustered red fruit representing his blood.
In the Victorian era, flowers or sprigs of dogwood were presented to unmarried women by male suitors to signify affection. The returning of the flower conveyed indifference on the part of the woman; if she kept it, it became a sign of mutual interest.
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