Legend of the dogwood tree

True or false?

THERE IS A BEAUTIFUL STORY ABOUT THE DOGWOOD TREE being the wood used for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

The story, generally told at Easter when the dogwoods flower, adds that Christ caused the flowers of the dogwood to be a reminder of the cross on which He died. He allegedly did this by giving the flower two long and two short petals, and to have what look like nail prints on the petals to remind us that Christ suffered on the cross with nails through His hands. The story is remarkable, but unfortunately the legend is not true.

Trunk of dogwood tree Cornus floridaThe 3-verse story goes like this:

The Legend of the Dogwood

“When Christ was on earth, the dogwood grew
To a towering size with a lovely hue.
Its branches were strong and interwoven,
And for Christ's cross its timbers were chosen.

“Being distressed at the use of the wood,
Christ made a promise which still holds good:
'Never again shall the dogwood grow
To be large enough for a tree, and so,
Slender and twisted it shall always be,
With cross-shaped blossoms for all to see.

Dogwood white flower blooming in April in Missouri“'The petals shall have bloodstains marked brown,
And in the blossom's center a thorny crown.
All who see it will think of me,
Nailed to a cross from a dogwood tree.
Protected and cherished this tree shall be,
A reflection to all of my agony.'”

Pink dogwood

The pink dogwood is said to represent the blushing of shame for shedding innocent blood. The weeping dogwood represents a heartfelt cry over this tree's being used to crucify Christ.

Reminders of God

Dogwood pink flower God has placed many reminders on earth that should cause us to glorify Him for His wonderful greatness, mercy, and love. Dogwood flowers can do just that.

But we should keep in mind that there is nothing in the Bible about Christ being crucified on a dogwood tree. There is not even any mention of dogwoods in the Bible, even though the word was in use at the time the King James Version was produced in AD 1611.

And there is no reputable record anywhere that Christ cursed the tree from which the cross was made to cause it to shrink forever after, or that He changed the appearance of the flowers to remind us of His death on the cross.

In fact, the only records we have of anything Jesus Christ ever said are in the Bible. The only tree the Bible records Him as cursing (for want of a better word) was the fig tree in His illustration of the importance of faith (Matthew 21:18-22). And that was a single tree that had no fruit — it did not affect the whole species or genus of fig trees down through the ages worldwide, as the dogwood story does.

Consider also that Christ knew He would die on the cross to pay for the sins of mankind and was willing to do this. Why then would He be “distressed at the use of the wood”? That doesn't make sense.

Legends sell

We spoke to a guide at a large city botanic gardens, who told us that guides often repeat or embellish stories about plants in the gardens to make the visit more memorable for visitors. Legends sell. Many plants have stories associated with them, but reliable information on the origin of the stories is hard to find. People repeat them without checking their accuracy.

The dogwood legend almost certainly originated in North America — it fits the flowering time, the language, and the American folk-myth style.

We could find no reference to the dogwood legend before the 20th century. It appeared in The Victoria Advocate newspaper on Sunday April 18, 1954 (page 3B), and there are some allusions to it before this, but we could find no ancient records of it.

Dogwoods don't grow in Israel

To further check an essential detail of this story, we contacted the Information Center at the Ministry of Tourism in Israel to find out whether dogwoods actually grow in Jerusalem, Israel, or the surrounding areas.

Their reply?

“No, the dogwood doesn't grow naturally in or near Israel. It is native to Europe, eastern Asia, and North America only.”

Gospel in the flowers?

Certainly some of the ingredients of the dogwood story can be used to remind us of Christ's death on the cross: The petals in a shape of a cross, the centre as the crown of thorns, and the holes at the petals' edges can remind us of the nail prints in Christ's hands.

But we should never attribute the words or the curse to Christ when the evidence for this does not exist.


Photo credits: Dogwood trunk photo by Derek Ramsey is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5, Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 and Attribution ShareAlike 1.0 licenses. Dogwood pink flower photo by Mike James is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

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