An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter of November 5, 2007
issued from Yerba Buena Clinic just outside
Pueblo Nuevo Solistahuacan, Chiapas, MÉXICO
about 1740 meters in elevation, ± LAT. 17° 11' 27"N, LONG. -92° 53' 35"W

A MODEST DOGWOOD

Also like North American forests, we have our dogwoods. A rain-drenched branch of our species is shown below:

Cornus disciflora, dogwood

This is CORNUS DISCIFLORA, and if the only dogwood you know is the West Coast's Pacific Dogwood or eastern North America's Flowering Dogwood -- both species famous for their spectacular clusters of flowers -- you may think that the flowers in the picture have had their large, white "petals" (actually bracts) fall off. However, this is as showy as our species gets. The branch in the picture is in "full flower."

You'll remember that even in the Pacific and Flowering Dogwoods the actual flowers are those tiny items in the flower-like things' centers. Four white, petal-like, modified leaves, or bracts, make the cluster of flowers look like one large blossom with four white petals. In Cornus disciflora there are no bracts, so there's no pretension that the flower cluster is a single spectacular blossom.

In the picture, notice that each little thingy (the flower) in each cluster has a slender, cream-colored item (a style) poking from it. Atop each style resides the stigma, which is where pollen grains germinate after pollination. Once the flower is pollinated and fertilization occurs in ovules inside the ovary, the ovary will begin developing into fruits similar to the colorful fruits produced by Pacific and Flowering Dogwoods.

Actually, Cornus disciflora's modest presentation of flowers is more typical of dogwood flowers in general than those of the Pacific and Flowering Dogwoods. "Bailey's Manual of Cultivated Plants" lists 14 dogwood species in cultivation in North America, of which only four gather their flower heads above petal-like bracts.

Bailey says that there are about 40 dogwood species -- 40 species of the genus Cornus. There's one that's a low herb, one with alternate leaves instead of the usual opposite, several with white, blue or black fruits instead of the stereotypical red...

Dogwoods can do lots of things other than produce flower clusters trying to look like single, big blossoms with four white petals.