Scientific name: Cornus nuttallii
Native American names: In the southern Pomo language of Northern California, Western dogwood is known as “mo’o zit”
Plant family: Cornaceae
Description: Leaves are opposite, deciduous, oval, sharp-pointed at the tip and tapering towards the base, to 10 cm long, veins curve parallel. Berries are red and tightly clustered in a spherical shape. The berries are about 1 cm long. The flowers are greenish-white with small purple tips (about 5cm across). The 4-6 large white bracts of Cornus nuttallii are often confused for petals. Flowers in the spring and often repeats in fall.
Habitat and Range: Usually found in low regions, on moist, well-drained sites, along streams or gullies, and in open to dense mixed forest. Found in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho.
Historical and Contemporary Uses The bark was boiled by Nlaka’pamux to make dye, and the bark was an ingredient in Saanich ‘10 barks’ medicine. Historically, C. nuttallii was a very important plant for the Native American tribes of the west coast of North America. The bark had several medicinal uses including use as a laxative, tonic, anti-septic and for the relief of stomach pain. The peeled twigs were used as toothbrushes, and the branches were sometimes used in basketweaving.
Prized for its hard, strong wood and tight grain, Cornus nuttalli is currently in high demand for tool handles and cabinet making. The large white showy bracts also make it popular as an ornamental tree.