This is the second Instructable I have done in regards to identifying trees. As with the last one I did on Identifying Beech trees, I learned this from park rangers at Natchez Trace State Park in Wildersville, TN. Most park rangers are more than happy to instruct you on how to identify various flora and fauna, so if you like this guide I suggest asking one for help.
The Dogwood is a fairly common type of tree with multiple species and multiple uses. This guide was made with the intent to give the reader a quick overview, so I suggest investing in a field guide or asking a ranger for help if help on identifying specific species are required. I hope you enjoy it!
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Step 1: Look for Leaves
A good indicator that Dogwoods are nearby is finding leaves on the ground. If you run across a tree, its leaves are also an easy to see indicator of what type of tree you are looking at. The typical leaf will look much like the one pictured, with an angled oval shape and visible veins running toward the edges. As the seasons change, so will the colors, gradually changing from green to red.
Step 2: Notice the Bark
Dogwood bark can be best described as scaly in appearance. It is relatively easy to peel the bark off of the tree, pieces at a time. Different species will have variations on this appearance, but the generally scale-like appearance of the tree's bark makes it easy to identify.
Step 3: Dogwood Flowers
Some dogwood species are particularly easy to identify during the spring, while their flowers are in bloom. They typically have four petals ranging in color from white to pink, and they are found on the branches of the trees, near the leaves. The petals can be more narrow than the one pictured, but would hardly be described as skinny.
Step 4: Fruits of the Dogwood
Some Dogwood species do produce fruit that are grape-shaped in appearance and red in color, growing in clusters on the branches of the Dogwood, near the leaves as the flowers did. Although some species do have edible berries, some species have berries that are toxic to humans, so if you are unsure of the specific species, it would be best not to eat the berries.
Step 5: Uses for the Dogwood
Although Dogwoods are typically favored for their beauty, their wood is durable and can be used for anything from lumber to mallets and tool handles. Naturally, it can also be burned for heat and light, although there are woods better for such purposes. Their twigs have been used as toothbrushes once the bark is removed, and some species have edible fruit. I recommend using a field guide for determining which berries are edible.