March 5, 2014
From the Garden: Of dogwoods
The Cornelian Cherry (Cornus, mas) has come to bloom in the last week which is extraordinarily late, for its normal bloom time commences in late January. It is an English cousin to the American Dogwood (Cornus florida) and it is from this plant that our native dogwood gets its name. The common name of dogwood does not seem to refer to the canine at all but is more likely rooted in the Celtic word dag or dagge which became dagger in common usage. It alludes to the very hard, fine grained wood that was used for fashioning stakes used by the butcher for hanging meat. William Turner first uses the term dog in reference to this tree in The Name of Herbs (1548): “the butchers make prickles of it, some cal it Gadrise or dog tree.”
It is likely that the dog in dogwood is simply a corruption of dag. The first English explorers recognized the American plant as a close cousin to the Cornelian Cherry and simply borrowed the name. Our dogwood, like its European counterpart, has a very hard, close grained wood that has been long employed in many types of tools and measuring devices.
The Green Hellebore (Helleborus viridis) has produced another assemblage of flowers after the first was blasted by the unusual cold. This European native of cool shady places has long been used as a medicinal plant for both humans and livestock. Its ancient name was “Setterwort” for its use with cattle as a general preventative. A piece of the root was placed in an incision made in the dew-lap, or loose skin at the cattle’s throat. It would act, according to John Gerard in 1597, to “draweth unto it all the venomous matter, and voided it forth at the wound.” For human ailments one must be cautious as it is a strongly poisonous plant.
The Laurustinus (Viburnum tinus) blooms were also blasted by the extraordinary cold but they have all turned brown and withered so that it appears we will see no bloom on them this year.
The cabbages and cauliflower seedlings in the hotbed have all been lifted and reset at four inches everyway so that they might grow on until transplanted to the garden in early April. The manure is now being brought in to start the second hotbed for the warm season crops such as pepper, tomato, sweet potato, melon and cucumber. The snow again yesterday will hopefully bring up the peas once it melts.