The Pacific dogwood tree is an early spring bloomer.

ISLAND WILD: Pancake flowers and popcorn seeds

The Latin name for the Pacific dogwood is Cornus nuttallii, named after scientist Thomas Nuttall

Honey-scented white petals and hot red seedpods, wavy-edged leaves that turn pinky-copper in autumn: such are the remarkable attributes of British Columbia’s floral emblem: Pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttallii).

Fortunate west coastal dwellers have this magnificent, exotic-looking tree growing wild in local woodlands.

Emily Carr wrote that the flat, round, snowy flowers staring at the sky reminded her of pancakes, and the red seed head of popcorn.

The four to six showy, white plant parts that we take for petals are actually modified leaves that surround a cluster of 30 to 40 tiny, “true” flowers.

Autumn brings the bling: round, globe-shaped seed clusters of bright reddish-orange, favoured by band-tailed pigeons, quail, grosbeaks, hermit thrushes and waxwings.

Imagine that moment at Fort Vancouver in 1834 when scientist Thomas Nuttall first recognized as a new species the handsome tree that came to bear his name.

Native peoples used the hard, heavy, fine-grained wood for knitting needles, bows, arrows, tool handles, combs, and needles, the bark for a rich brown dye, and the long slender branches for basketry. The plant was also used medicinally to treat fevers, stomach and intestinal ailments, and early settlers boiled the tannin-rich bark to use like quinine to cure malaria.

Three different members of the Cornaceae (dogwood) family grow in the Pacific Northwest; all have characteristic “dogwood veins” that curve parallel to the leaf edge. Dogwood leaves are unique in that they “bleed” white sap when cracked apart.

Pacific dogwood is a protected species in BC; collection or disturbance is prohibited by law.

E-mail wildernesswest@shaw.ca. Trailguides Nature Campbell River and Nature Strathcona at Campbell River museum.