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Legend of the Dogwood Tree – Dogwood Flower Meaning + Dogwood facts

With Easter right around the corner, it’s the perfect time to review the legend of the dogwood tree.

Thought it may not be as obvious as the Easter bunny or Easter egg hunts, the dogwood tree is one of the symbols of Easter.

Even though Easter is in the beginning of spring, when many flowers are coming into bloom, there are only two floral symbols of Easter (and the dogwood is one of them!). The Easter lily is the other flower of Easter.

Keep reading to learn the legend of the dogwood tree, as well as the dogwood flower meaning, and dogwood tree facts!

White dogwood flowers on a wooden fence with a text overlay advertising the legend of the dogwood tree and facts about dogwood trees and the dogwood flower meaning.

What the legend of the dogwood tree?

The legend of the dogwood tree is a Christian story of unknown origin. It says that the cross of Jesus’s crucifixion was made of dogwood.

You might be wondering, how could this short tree with thin, crooked branches be used to make a cross large enough to crucify Jesus?

The legend of the dogwood tree says that during Jesus’s life, the tree looked very different than how it appears now.

A dogwood cross with a purple lenten sash standing next to a field of dogwood trees.

It was a strong, solid tree, which could grow larger than an oak tree or cedar tree. Dogwood was highly used in building, as the wood was sturdy and easy to work with.

As it was a sturdy building material, it became the chosen material to make the cross on which Jesus was crucified.

Jesus bestowed a curse unto the tree of his crucifixion. He cursed the tree to never again grow tall enough to be used in another crucifixion as a dogwood cross.

The dogwood tree which once stood tall, became a short tree with thin and crooked branches.

However, in addition to cursing the dogwood tree, Jesus also blessed the dogwood tree to grow beautiful flowers that would bloom in time for Easter.

That way, anyone looking at a dogwood tree would remember the story of Jesus’s crucifixion.

Dogwood flower meaning

Let’s talk about dogwood flowers. The white part of the dogwood flower that appears to be flower petals are actually leaves (called bracts).

Another popular example of a plant whose leaves are often mistaken for petals, is the poinsettia (the red parts of the plant are bracts too, not petals!).

On dogwood trees, four bracts surround a tight cluster of tiny yellow flowers in the center.

Three white dogwood flowers up close showing their cross like shape, which informs the dogwood flower meaning.

The bracts form in a cross shape, with two long bracts, and two short bracts. This formation holds religious symbolism, as it forms what look like tiny floral crosses all over the dogwood tree.

The bracts are indented on the edge, which gives the appearance that a nail has passed through them.

Some varieties of dogwood flowers even have red marks around the bracts’ indents, which represent the blood of Jesus Christ.

The tight grouping of flowers in the center of the dogwood flower symbolize the crown of thorns that was placed on Jesus’s head during the crucifixion.

For another Easter symbol with religious meaning, make sure to check out the history of hot cross buns. Every component of this traditional Easter bread has religious meaning, from the dough to the spices used! Hot cross buns are so special they even have their own national day.

Is the legend of the dogwood true?

As faith is a subjective matter, it is hard to say if any faith based belief is true or false. However, there is some evidence to indicate this the legend of the dogwood tree is likely just that, a legend. 

Flowering dogwood trees are only native to Eastern North America and Northern Mexico, so there would not have been any dogwood trees in Israel during Jesus’ crucifixion.

A dogwood tree in the foreground of a photo with a church steeple in the background to show the religious symbolism of dogwood.

There is also no mention of dogwood trees in the bible. It is most likely that the origin of the legend of the dogwood comes from at 20th century poem written by an unknown author.

Whether you choose to believe the legend of the dogwood tree is up to you!

If you enjoyed learning this story, check out our mythology posts. The story of Cupid and Psyche and the story of Daphne and Apollo are two fascinating Greek myths.

If you’re looking for some concrete facts about dogwood trees, keep reading, we have some listed below for you.

Facts about dogwood trees

Did the legend of the dogwood tree inspire you to learn about this plant? Check out these dogwood tree facts below. Some may surprise you!

Pink dogwood flowers from a variety of dogwood tree that ranges from white flowers to deep pink flowers.

  • The flowering dogwood is the state tree of Virginia and Missouri.
  • It is also the state flower of North Carolina.
  • Dogwood was used to treat dogs with mange, which could be a possible origin of the plant’s name. 
  • The white “petals” of dogwood trees are actually not petals at all! They’re leaves called bracts. The actual flowers are the small yellow clusters in the center of the bracts.
  • Dogwoods flowers come in various colors from white to deep pink. They can even be found in a pale yellow color. However dogwood flowers don’t have as wide of a range of color as other flowers (e.g. roses and orchids).

Did you know that some flowers and trees have national days dedicated to them? Dogwoods, unfortunately, do not have their own national day.

If you want to learn about flowers and houseplants with their own national days, make sure to check out our posts on National Carnation Day and National Poinsettia Day. There’s even a two national days dedicated to roses: National Red Rose Day and Rose Day.

Dogwood tree facts

Did you enjoy learning those facts about dogwood trees? Here are some more dogwood tree facts for you to enjoy!

A single drawn dogwood flower and leaves against a white background.

  • Dogwood trees produce red fruit in the fall. This red fruit looks similar to cranberries, but is classified as a drupe. Drupes are fruits with pits in the center; other examples include peaches, plums, cherries, olives, pecans and almonds.
  • The average lifespan of a dogwood tree is 80 years.
  • There are two ways branches can grow on trees: opposite branching (when branches grow directly opposite each other) and alternate branching (when the branches alternate). Dogwood trees have opposite branching which is more rare than alternate branching.
  • The dogwood tree is deciduous, so it drops its leaves during the winter.
  • Atlanta holds a yearly dogwood festival. The first year of the Atlanta Dogwood Festival was 1936.

If you enjoyed learning these facts about dogwood trees, and the legend of the dogwood tree, and want to add one to your yard, look into purchasing a dogwood tree of your own! (affiliate link)

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Looking for more fact-based posts?

If you enjoyed learning these facts about dogwood trees, be sure to also check out these other informational posts! 

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Still want more facts and historical trivia? Check out our fun facts section to learn more about some of your favorite things!

Pin this post on the legend of the dogwood tree for later

Would you like a reminder of this post with facts about dogwood trees, the dogwood flower meaning and the legend of the dogwood tree?

Just pin this image to one of your Easter boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.

A white background with three illustrated dogwood flowers at the bottom, and a text overlay advertising the legend of the dogwood tree, the dogwood flower meaning and facts about dogwood trees above it.

Jess author photoAbout the author

Since graduating from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Jess has been living and working in Los Angeles, CA. She is a freelance writer, specializing in content related to fashion, food and drink and film industry topics. Find out more about Jess here.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small commission from the sale, but the price is the same for you. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."