If you should ever find yourself luxuriating in the French Riviera, and in the unlikely event you grow tired of the sand and sea, a walk in the hills will introduce you to the unique woodlands of the Mediterranean. There, among the scrubby oaks and umbrella pines you will find a familiar bush or small tree, the European smoketree – in its native environment.
There are only two species of trees in the genus Cotinus. One is the American smoketree, the other is its close relative from Europe. For both, their claim to fame is the wispy clumps of filaments that look all the world like smoke. The mirage has given rise to other names such as mist tree, cloud tree, wig tree, and Jupiter’s beard. By whatever name, the site of this tree is what Minnesota garden writer Don Engebretson has called “one of the most arresting shrubs available to…gardeners today.”
Writer-naturalist Donald Peattie once wrote, “Lovely as it is, dogwood stoops also to be useful.”
What’s in a Name?
For all the beauty of this tree, the common name of dogwood may come from something less lovely – “dagger.” This, in turn, may actually come from its early use as a skewer, or thin piece of wood used to hold meat together. The tendency of its wood to not splinter made it popular for this purpose.
The scientific genus name, Cornus, derives from the Latin, cornu, or horn, in reference to another use of its hard wood. The species name, florida, is also from Latin, flos, meaning flowery.
The blossoms of dogwood add a welcome touch of color in early spring. If space allows, the white can be accentuated with a background of conifers. Bright autumn foliage and red berries that linger into winter add a bold stroke of color to any landscape design. Read more…