Missouri's State Family

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Published on: Jul. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

the Missouri Audubon Society is named for the bluebird.

Missouri shares the eastern bluebird with New York. Even so, Missourians were quite original. They ignored the extraordinarily popular western meadowlark, which stands as the symbol of six states west of the Mississippi River. (The cardinal, representing seven states - all east of the Mississippi, is the most popular state bird.)

"The bluebird is an excellent symbol," says state ornithologist Wilson. "It is appealing in beauty and habit. It's found in scenic places - where woodlands meet farm fields. The song is pretty. And the bluebird is common in Missouri."

Like the bluebird, the flowering dogwood (C ornus florida) is at the western extent of its range in Missouri. The tree, which Missouri shares with Virginia, joined the state family in 1955.

Most abundant in the Ozarks, dogwood occurs throughout Missouri. Pink or white bracts - specialized leaves that everyone but botanists consider flowers - make the tree a popular ornamental. In spring, bracts unfold before the leaves. They are a celebration of confetti across a reawakening landscape.

The dogwood tree is easily recognized in any season. A plant taxonomy professor asks, "How can one recognize a dogwood?" Answer: "By its bark." That pun is tired but true. There's no mistaking the deeply carved, tilelike pattern of dogwood bark.

Dogwood leaves are 3 to 6 inches long and oval. Their veins are parallel. In autumn, they turn scarlet, orange and red.

Strength explains why dogwood finds its way into golf clubs, engraver's blocks and skewers. The wood weighs more than 50 pounds per cubic foot. The name of the dogwood genus, Cornus, derives fro m Latin and means horn, a reference to strength. Common name "dogwood" is corrupted from "dagwood" in England. And, yes, "dag" shares its root with dagger.

Historically, dogwood has seen many uses: quinine substitute extracted from inner bark; red dye from small roots of some species and "toothbrush" from split ends of small branches (reference: William M. Harlow, Trees of the eastern United States and Canada, 1957). Dogwood's fleshy fruits are eaten by birds, small mammals and deer.

Fragile, fibrous roots make it difficult to transplant dogwood. (Resistance to uprooting is one aspect the tree shares with the hawthorns.) But the flowering dogwood thrives in acidic soils. That characteristic alone merits the native tree the rank of state symbol.

Among Missouri's symbols, only dogwood has been seized as a town name. Nestled in Douglas County, Dogwood was named by a forester who knew the geographical preferences of the tree.

Missouri's delicate flower, gorgeous bird and pretty tree create a living legacy that ties present to past and future

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