An advertisement for a trip to Yellowstone National Park

I love dogwoods. I just do. For most of the year, they’re most unremarkable trees, but in the springtime, when they blossom, they grab me.

A dogwood in the backyard shades my patio. When the breeze rustles its branches, the wind chimes make gentle music, and it’s one of my favorite places to be. I planted a pink dogwood once, but they’re tricky to get established, and it lasted only a few years. Campbell University has several healthy specimens on campus, however, and I sometimes visit them.

You’ve probably heard the old legend about the dogwood being a reminder of Christ’s crucifixion. The story goes that the dogwood used to grow straight and tall, and that Jesus was crucified on a cross made of dogwood. Afterward, he decreed that dogwoods would grow twisted so they could no longer be used for such a purpose, and that the four-petaled blossoms would be in the shape of a cross with brown stains at the end of each petal to remind us of the blood he shed from head, hands, and feet. The more prickly center of the flower, it is said, represents the crown of thorns. Pink dogwoods, the story goes, are blushing with shame to have been used for the crucifixion.

The whole story is completely bogus, of course. Dogwoods don’t even grow in Palestine, unless someone has imported one there. The legend almost certainly originated in America, and fairly recently, at that: the earliest published version I’ve heard about was in the April 18, 1954 issue of The Victoria Advocate of Victoria, Texas, though I do not claim to have seen it. It’s most commonly known from a rather sappy poem that has been read far too many times as a children’s sermon.

There is certainly nothing wrong with looking at a dogwood blossom and being reminded of the crucifixion, and the fact that dogwoods bloom during the Easter season makes that a natural connection. It is not necessary, however, to make up a phony legend thinking it will somehow glorify God.

For me, just the existence of the dogwood, along with the other flowering plants of spring, is a reminder of God’s exceeding extravagance: the Creator not only made our world perfect for habitation, but also beautiful beyond belief — and that’s all the inspiration I need.

 

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