The Legend of the Dogwood


The Legend of the Dogwood Will Change the Way You View This Special Tree

Do you know the Legend of the Dogwood Tree?

Dogwoods in spring! There is no more jubilant scene than when the Dogwood Tree is decked out in its gorgeous spring blossoms. In gardens as well as in wild spaces all over the eastern U.S., the Flowering Dogwood opens its spectacular white and pink blooms to our delight. To some people, however, this pretty picture carries a deeper, more somber meaning, explained through a story from long ago. The Legend of the Dogwood Tree tells how this magnificent Tree came to be the lovely little ornamental Tree we know today.

The mighty Dogwood Tree

Our story begins almost two thousand years ago in Israel. If you ventured into the forests of Israel at that time, you would have found many tall and majestic Trees there, such as the sturdy Oak, the lofty Cedar, the Plane Tree, the Cypress, and the Walnut. All of these Trees were fine, noble Trees, good for construction and woodworking, and carpenters made use of all of them.

There was one Tree that was prized above all others. The mighty Dogwood Tree was a different Tree in those days. Although it didn’t have the showy flowers and fruit back then, it was an impressive Tree. It rose straight and true, standing taller and broader than the Oaks and Cedars. Its wood was strong, hard, and fine-grained, yet easy to work. It had no equal, and builders and woodworkers sought it out for many jobs.


Dogwood is called upon for a terrible task

During this time a man, a simple carpenter himself, had the audacity to declare himself King of the Jews. For this crime he was sentenced to death. The method of execution in those days was crucifixion, and a special Tree would be called upon to deliver punishment to the condemned man. The timbermen were told to cut down a Dogwood Tree.

Jesus was stripped and dressed in a purple robe and made to wear a crown of thorns, mocking his claim as King of the Jews. Roman soldiers flogged him, spat on him, and jeered as he bore his cross on his way to the Calvary.

Jesus transforms the Dogwood Tree

According to the legend, the Dogwood Tree felt great sorrow for the role it played in Jesus Christ’s death. While on the cross, Jesus sensed the Tree’s anguish, and he alleviated it by changing the nature of the Dogwood Tree forever. From that point on, the Dogwood would no longer be a stately, tall forest Tree, but would become a small understory Tree with thin, twisted limbs. It could never be used in crucifixion again.

“I am the resurrection and the life”

Jesus was taken down from the cross and placed in a tomb. Three days later, he rose from the dead. At the same time, the Dogwood Trees in the forest (which were no longer timber Trees, but had become small, shrub-like Trees) burst into bloom. Every year around Easter, the Dogwoods continue to bloom in celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.


More symbolism in the Flowering Dogwood Tree

The Dogwood Tree never again had to bear the burden of assisting in an execution, but to this day it carries the marks of Jesus’ crucifixion. The four large petals (or bracts) represent the cross he died upon, and at the edges of each petal are notches that look like rusty nail holes tinged with blood. As the flower ages it often becomes speckled with blood-like spatters. Pink Flowering Dogwoods are said to be blushing in shame for the role that the Dogwood Tree played in the Crucifixion. In the center of each flower you’ll find a greenish yellow crown of thorns.

In the fall, the foliage of the Dogwood Tree turns color, and it seems to be wearing a purple robe, like the Lord did as he walked toward Golgotha. The blossoms turn into glossy red berries that resemble glistening drops of blood.

Is the Legend of the Dogwood Tree true?

The Legend of the Dogwood Tree probably originated in the U.S. early in the 20th century. Alas, Flowering Dogwoods are native only to this country. They are not native to the Middle East and would not have been growing there in Jesus’ time. Nevertheless, the legend persists. Beloved Dogwood Trees, with their beautiful, unique blossoms and distinctive branching, continue to hold a special significance for many Christians. In their hearts, the blooming of the Dogwoods each year is not just a wonderful spectacle, but a poignant reminder of Jesus’ love and sacrifice.