The American Dogwood

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The semi-tragic story of the American dogwood always upsets me. A few years ago, dogwood anthracnose was spreading madly among this native species, and any tree that had so much as a nick on it was soon invaded and destroyed. I’ve seen a number of trees succumb to this, and I didn’t look into whether it’s still decimating the population. For my part, I avoided planting them, preferring the hardier Chinese dogwood. Yet there’s something magical about the American version that makes me wish there was better news for its battle.

There are still some specimens that remain untouched by the disease, including the ones you see here in Boston. Hallmarks of the Southwest Corridor Park, they showed off the enchanting effect that sets them apart from other dogwoods: the blooms (technically bracts) appear before the foliage leafs out, lending a butterfly-like effect that is the stuff of poetry and painting.

Their Chinese counterpart blooms later, after the leaves are out, which is a different kind of magic, and for years I preferred the later bloom time and lush backdrop to better show off the white or pink petal. As the American version becomes more rare, however, I have come to appreciate its own majesty.

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