Posted by: atowhee | April 29, 2021


There is a thriving, ebullient dogwood abloom in our Oregon garden now.  That is a tree I can find among my earliest childhood  images—a dogwood blooming beneath larger, dark, bare limbs of hardwoods in the Missouri Ozarks.  The forests there were dominated by gnarled oaks of several species.  Interspersed would be two kinds of hickory, black walnut, some ash.  The dogwood was one of the understory plants and it would light up in spring before the canopy trees sprouted their new leaves.

Ozark springs had a strict procession:  first the feral plums would bloom. Their branches tended to be vertical, reaching for sunlight that bigger trees would gather as the summer came on. Their pale white, flimsy flowers often torn apart by March winds, yet somehow immune to freezing nights or even late snows. Then as April began and days were longer, the scarlet ovals appeared on the redbuds, adorning arched limbs. The by mid-April  into May the native dogwoods would cover their horizontal limbs with the creamy bracts and in town exotic dogwoods imported from across the temperate world would add their various hues to the season.  The native dogwoods were always the spring highlight.  Local people would notice, comment, praise.  The only oil painting my parents ever owned was of a sprig of such dogwood in April, painted by their Methodist Church  minister’s wife.

The one tree I now think of as typical, which I have never encountered anywhere else on earth, the dwarfish sassafras with its three leaf designs and its highly-scented bark and leaves. Here is a wonderful picture of those leaves in fall color:

Iris, too, harken back.  My mother loved her iris.  They were one of the few plants who seemed to actually thrive in those hot, humid Missouri summers, their leaves rarely nibbled on by the wide variety of insects that would gather around any outdoor light at night—from June bugs and Dobson flies down to tiny specks always in motion. Those insect congresses would inevitably attract one or more hungry toads.

A few of the plants that did thrive in that garden decades ago: lilac, forsythia, spirea. Hot summers and mucky clay soil did not appeal to many other plants–roses, azaleas, fruit trees, ivy, violets, tulips.

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