Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the November 1, 2009 Newsletter, from near Natchez, Mississippi

Down in the bayou's moist, rich soil next to the sandy creek bottom here and there you run into what's shown below:

Roughleaf Dogwood, CORNUS DRUMMONDII

Old-fashioned porcelain dolls' eyes held in more or less flat-topped clusters on red, branching and rebranching ganglia (technically the clusters are defined as "axillary pedunculate corymbiform cymes"). In shafts of sunlight penetrating the bayou-bottom gloom it's a pretty sight.

Of course the eyeballs are tree fruits, and in this case the tree is the Roughleaf Dogwood, CORNUS DRUMMONDII, a small, common tree in many habitats from dry to wet ones, and displaying an odd distribution pattern, basically the eastern US as far north as southern Michigan, but absent from the Atlantic coastal states.

Roughleaf Dogwood is one of those dogwood species in which the small flowers are NOT bunched together in a flower head which itself looks like a large flower, as with the "flowering dogwoods." The broad, white, flattish inflorescences look like those of elderberries or certain ornamental viburnums. The flowers are pretty, but not as pretty as the fruits.

A good field mark for this species is how most leaf veins arise at the blades' bases, and of course the leaves themselves are "opposite," or two to a stem node. Also notice how the main veins curve or arch toward the leaves' tips -- they're "arcuate." The leaves also are described as rough-feeling because of short stiff hairs on them, but the ones in the picture were only a little rough, maybe because it's so late in the season and the hairs have rubbed off.

Roughleaf Dogwood often forms large, dense thickets like bamboo because the trees grow from an underground stem, or rhizome. What appears to be the trees' slender trunks are actually branches off the underground rhizome This thicket-forming propensity means that the species is important for erosion control.