Dogwood

(Cornus sanguinea) A Dogwood that was believed to have sprung from the shaft of the javelin that Romulus had thrown from the slopes of the Aventine Hill, stood on the Palatine Hill in Rome, until it was accidently destroyed in the time of Caius Caesar. From what Plutarch says, it appears that this tree was one of the talismans of the city, whose safety was reckoned to be bound up in the tree (Brand). There are signs elsewhere that dogwood is a protective tree. In the Balkans, for instance, women wear it as an amulet against witchcraft (Vukanovic), and in some Serbian villages it was a stick of dogwood that was put in the cradle first, to protect a newborn baby. In America, too, there was recognition of its protective nature, for boats built in Nova Scotia always had dogwood thole-pins (Baker. 1979).

But in England it is something of an unlucky tree, best avoided, especially when it is in flower (Baker. 1977). Quite why is not clear. After all:

When the dogwood flowers appear Frost will not again be here.

And that in itself shows sympathetic observation. Divining rods were made of it in the Basque country (W. Webster), replacing hazel, which was the favourite dowsing material in Britain. An East Prussian superstition, too, suggests a favourable view of dogwood, for it was said that the sap, absorbed in a handkerchief, would have in some unspecified way the power of fulfilling every wish on Midsummer Day (Dyer. 1889).

Dogwood yields a red dye, and oil from the berries, perfectly edible, was used for lamp-burning at one time. In France, it was used in making soap (C P Johnson). The wood itself, like that of Spindle-tree, makes, in Evelyn's words, "the best skewers for butchers, because it does not taint the flesh", a usage that accounts for a lot of the local names. Skewer-wood is the most obvious (Britten & Holland, Havergal). Skiver is the same word as skewer, and the name appears simply as that in Wiltshire dialect (Dartnell & Goddard). Another name is Pegwood (Miller), indication enough that pegs were another product made from the wood.

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