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Friday, March 28, 2008

Spring Sprigs and Shuttles

Spring is a season of gifts from Mother Nature, as trees and plants awaken from their winter sleep, unfurl their leaves and petals, then burst forth in glorious riots of color against the brilliant spring sky. The redbud out front woke up a few weeks ago. In fact, it burst awake suddenly,its empty limbs suddenly awash in deep pink blooms.

We've been watching the dogwood outside the window for a week now. It's been a little groggy and slow to fully wake, but this morning it greeted the day with a mass of white blossoms bobbing in the breeze.

I've always thought of dogwood as only an ornamental tree because of its small size and delicate features. I was surprised to learn that it was once widely used in industry, where its hard, strong, smooth wood was used to make weaving shuttles and spools for textile mills, as well as small pulleys, mallet heads, jeweler’s blocks, and turnpins for shaping the ends of lead pipes. In earlier times, according to a 1973 pamphlet from the USDA Forestry Service, dogwood root bark was used to treat fevers and a scarlet dye was made from its roots.

I now have a new appreciation for this beautiful little tree, and wonder how many early settlers wore clothes fashioned from fabric woven with help from a dogwood shuttle then dyed with dogwood root dye.

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