I’m calling it. Dogwoods are in full bloom, but this morning dawned a surprising 42 degrees—parka weather for me—so I’m calling today a Dogwood Winter.
Dogwood winter is one of the “Little Winters” of olde tyme: one of the cold spells that snuck back to bite us (and our crops) when we thought cold spells were over.
Each Little Winter was named for what was blooming at the time:
Linsey-Woolsey / Britches Winter. (Britches don’t bloom, of course, but think of them as “bloomers,” per se.)
Redbuds flowers are gone already, so Dogwood Winter it is.
Last year, we had snow flurries while Dogwoods bloomed, which made a Winter pronouncement indisputable. But I’ll jump at any excuse to pull old terms into new conversations. Today’s excuse includes an observation about how Dogwoods bloom.
First, the ONION.
Dogwood floral buds are like little pearl onions, or like domes on smaller-than-LEGO Russian Orthodox churches. The little onions are formed months and months before they actually open. Check anytime in summer, fall, or winter and you’ll see buds-in-waiting.
My photo below shows ours covered in ice, during True Winter.
Then, the WONTON.
After budburst, the four white things we think are petals (they aren’t) clutch each other at the their tips, while their middles expand around the wonton filling.
(If you keep kosher, think “chicken Kreplach” instead of wonton.)
Then, the BASKET.
Two of the white things we think are petals let go, which makes a white handle on top and a long, shallow, white basket below.
Less of a shopping basket, more of a gardening trug.
See the “real” flowers in the trug, under the handle?
Then, the WHOLE SHEBANG.
The four white things we think are petals spread wide, and become what some imagine to be a holy cross, but we aren’t getting into that right now.
And boom: a dogwood flower in bloom, open wide and ready for the bees, flies, beetles, and other pollinators.
Do you have a native dogwood nearby? If so, run and look. See if yours has Onions or Wontons or Baskets, or are already the Whole Shebang?
Fun Fact (or Insufferably Pedantic Fact, depending):
If the white things aren’t petals, what are they? Bracts.
Bracts are the handmaidens of flowers, the supporting actors, the guards.
The real flowers of a dogwood are the green and yellow blips in the crux of the cross: that’s where the nectar and pollen are, and that’s what will turn into the hard, red, shiny fruit that makes new dogwoods.
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Joanna Brichetto is a naturalist and writer in Nashville, the hackberry-tree capital of the world.
She writes about everyday natural wonders amid every habitat loss, and her essays have appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, Fourth Genre, Hippocampus, The Hopper, Flyway, The Common, City Creatures, The Fourth River and other journals.