Cornus spp. L


       Dogwood seeds are rare in the archaeological record, although there are many documented ethnographic and historic uses of fruits, bark, wood, and roots. Several species are found throughout most of the United States, including Cornusflorida, C. alternifolia, C. racemosa, and C. alba.

       Dogwood fruits are drupes borne in clusters and having a thick flesh covering a single bony stone or “pit”. The seeds of the various species differ significantly from one another. C. florida and C. nuttallii have long, ovoid stones, while most other species have globular stones with almost equal lengths and widths. Seed size ranges from 3 to 6mm long and wide. Most stones are two-seeded, but often, only one seed is fully developed. C. florida, C. nuttallii, and C. drummondii have relatively smooth stones, while C. alternifolia, C. amomum, and C. racemosa have rough or deeply lined stones. C. florida has a clear seam along the long circumference of the stone, dividing the seed in half, but other species do not share this characteristic (see Figure 1). Most globular stones have distinct beaks (Brinkman 1974:338).
       When charred experimentally, C. florida stones remained whole and were difficult to break or cut open. The embryos were largely destroyed, leaving the interior empty. The two-seeded structure of the interior was plainly visible (Figure 2).

Archaeological Distribution
       There are few references for dogwood stones recovered from archaeological sites. Site reports from various Mississippian phases in Illinois and Missouri, such as the Sponemann Site (Parker 1992) and the Truman Reservoir Mitigation area (King 1993), occasionally report stone fragments. Borojevic (1996) identified 11 Cornus seeds in Cass County, Texas, but they were only partially charred, and therefore, not conclusively associated with the archaeological remains. Lopinot (1991) has identified Cornus wood in charcoal from the Moorehead Phase at the ICT-II tract at Cahokia mounds, Illinois, but in extremely small quantities (total weight = .04g). Whalley (1984:326) and Johannessen (1984:127) have also found Cornus wood in small quantities in the American Bottom.

The Modern Plant and its Distribution
       Six species of Cornus occur in the midwest: C. florida (flowering dogwood), C. foemina (stiff dogwood), C. drummondi (rough-leaved dogwood), C. obliqua (swamp dogwood), C. racemosa (gray dogwood), and C. alternifolia (alternate-leaved or pagoda dogwood). All species occur in large portions of the United States, excluding the Rocky Mountains and the Southwest, with C. foemina having a more southerly range and C. alternifolia extending further north than other species (Brinkman 1974:336; Steyermark 1963).

       With the exception of C. alternifolia, dogwoods are woody, opposite-leaved trees ranging in height at maturity from 10 to 40 feet. The leaves are smooth-edged. The flowers are perfect and are borne in clusters in the spring. Two “flowering” species, C. florida and C. nuttallii, have enlarged, petal-like bracts surrounding the flower cluster. Fruits ripen in late summer to late fall (Brinkman 1974:336-337).

       Although dogwoods are listed as having many prehistoric uses, based mainly on ethnographic records of historic uses by Native Americans, they are largely absent from the archaeological record.  Moerman (1998:177) lists many uses of dogwood bark and roots as medicines and some use of Cornus fruits as dried or fresh food source. The wood of C. florida is strong and remains smooth under friction, and is used for shuttles in the textile industry (Steyermark 1963:1151). The bark of C. florida is also used as a dye. C. florida is widely planted as an ornamental in gardens throughout eastern North America.

       The most useful properties of these species appear to be related to the bark, roots, and wood, rather than the fruit. This might explain the near or complete absence of dogwood stones in the archaeological record. In order to learn more about prehistoric uses of this genus, archaeologists may have to search for and identify Cornus charcoal rather than seeds.

Borojevic, K.

    1996   Analysis of archeobotanical remains. In Excavations in Area C of the Unionville Site
            (41CS151) White Oak Creek Mitigation Area (WOCMA) Cass County, Texas, by M.B. Cliff,
            M.M. Green, S.M. Hunt, D. Shanabrook, and D.E. Peter, pp. F1-F11. WOCMA
            Archaeological Technical Series No. 4. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Ft. Worth, Texas.

Brinkman, K. A.

    1974   Cornus L. Dogwood. In Seeds of Woody Plants in the United States, edited by C.S.
            Schopmeyer, pp. 336-342. Agriculture Handbook No. 450. Forest Service, U.S. Department of
            Agriculture, Washington D.C.

Johannessen, S.

    1984   Plant remains. In The Robinson’s Lake Site (11-Ms-582), by G. Milner. American Bottom
            Archaeology FAI-270 Site Reports Vol. X, pp. 124-132. Illinois Department of Transportation,
            University of Illinois Press, Urbana.

King, F. B.

    1993   Botanical remains from burial mound in southwestern Missouri. In Prehistoric Cultural
            Continuity in the Missouri Ozarks: The Truman Reservoir Mitigation Project: Volume III:
            Specialized Studies, by D. C. Roper. American Archaeology Division, Department of
            Anthropology, University of Missouri, Columbia.

Lopinot, N. H., L. S. Kelly, G. R. Milner, and R. Paine

    1991   The Archaeology of the Cahokia Mounds ICT-II: Biological remains. Illinois Cultural
            Resources Study No. 13. Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, Springfield.

Moerman, D. E.

    1998   Native American Ethnobotany. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.

Parker, K. E.

    1992   Archaeobotany. In The Sponemann Site 2: The Mississippian and Oneota Occupations (11-
            MS-517), by D. K. Jackson, A. C. Fortier, and J. A. Williams. American Bottom Archaeology
            FAI-270 Site Reports
Vol. 24, pp. 306-324. Illinois Department of Transportation, University of
            Illinois Press, Urbana.

Steyermark, J. A.

    1963   Flora of Missouri. Iowa State University Press, Ames.

Whalley, L.
    1984   Plant remains from the Stirling Phase. In The BBB Motor Site (11-MS-595), by T. E.
            Emerson, and D. K. Jackson. American Bottom Archaeology FAI-270 Site Reports 6.
            University of Illinois Press, Urbana.

Written by: Angela Gordon