When the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) blooms in the spring, the sight can take your breath away. The clusters of petals against the little tree's dark branches make it stand out in the deepest woodland. Throughout its range in the southeastern states, the tree adds to any landscape.
The wood of the flowering dogwood has a reputation, too-but for toughness. Stiff and finely textured, the wood weighs as much as hickory, yet is harder! In fact, when used as a chisel handle, dogwood resists crushing and mushrooming from hammer blows. And because dogwood wears smoother with age, it has known service as knitting needles, pullies, and sled runners.
This tough-as-nails reputation also made it (even today) a valuable commodity in the textile industry. You see, until the 1860s, the mechanical looms in New England and Europe relied on smooth, long-wearing boxwood from Mediterranean countries for their shuttles (spindle-shaped devices for carrying thread). In that same period, though, roller skating became a popular European pastime, and boxwood became the choice for the wheels. This new demand on a limited boxwood supply resulted in the substitution of dogwood.
Indeed, dogwood became such a valuable commodity that it was sold, not by the volume in a log as other commercial wood, but by the cord! That's partly because the dogwood at best only reaches 40' tall and grows dispersed among other trees, not in stands. So, it couldn't be economically logged in volume. Instead, farmers made extra money selling a stack at a time.
Illustration: Jim Stevenson