Cornaceae Plant Family

About the Cornaceae or Dogwood Family

The Cornaceae family is a diverse group of woody plants that are primarily found in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. They range in size from small shrubs to large trees and are characterized by their attractive foliage, showy flowers, and distinctive fruit. Many species in this family have important uses in medicine and horticulture, making them economically and culturally significant. The family includes around 50 genera and 600 species, with some of the most well- members being dogwoods and tupelos.

Taxonomy and Classification

The Cornaceae family is classified within the order Cornales, which also includes families such as Hydrangeaceae and Loasaceae. Within the Cornaceae family, there are four subfamilies: Aucuboideae, Cornaceae, Mastixioideae, and Nyssaceae. Some notable genera within the family include Cornus (dogwoods), Alangium, Swida (formerly known as Cornus), and Nyssa (tupelos). The classification of some groups within this family has been debated and revised over time, with some genera being moved to other families. For example, several species formerly placed in genus Cornus have been moved to newly created genera such as Chamaepericlymenum and Leucotrichum.

Morphology and Characteristics

Plants in the Cornaceae family exhibit a wide range of morphological features, but they are generally woody and perennial. They can be small shrubs or large trees that reach up to 30 meters in height. Most species have simple, opposite leaves that may be deciduous or evergreen. The flowers of Cornaceae plants are often showy and arranged in clusters called cymes. These flowers typically have four petals and are usually white or pink in color, although some species have yellow flowers. In many cases, the fruit of Cornaceae plants is a drupe - a fleshy fruit with a hard inner pit that contains one or more seeds. Some notable adaptations within this family include the ability to grow in wet environments (as seen in tupelos) and the development of red stems and berries as a signal for birds to consume and disperse their seeds (as seen in dogwoods).

Distribution and Habitat

The Cornaceae family is primarily found in the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, with some species occurring in tropical regions as well. They are most diverse in eastern Asia and North America, but can also be found in Europe, Africa, and South America. The specific habitats in which Cornaceae plants thrive vary depending on the species, but many are found in forests, woodlands, and wetland areas. Some species are adapted to grow in dry or arid conditions, while others prefer moist soils or areas near water bodies. The distribution and abundance of Cornaceae plants can also be influenced by factors such as climate, elevation, and human activity.

Economic and Ecological Importance

The Cornaceae family has both economic and ecological importance. Many species in this family are cultivated for their ornamental value, particularly dogwoods which are popular in landscaping and horticulture. Some species also have medicinal properties and are used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments. The wood of some Cornaceae species is used for furniture- tool handles, and other objects. Ecologically, these plants play an important role as food and habitat sources for wildlife, particularly birds and insects. They also contribute to forest ecosystems by helping to stabilize soils, regulate water flow, and support other plant species. However, some species in the Cornaceae family are considered threatened or endangered due to habitat loss, overcollection, and other factors, highlighting the need for conservation efforts to protect these important plants.

Notable Species

Some notable species within the Cornaceae family include:

  • Cornus florida: Also known as flowering dogwood, this species is a small tree native to eastern North America. It is well- for its showy flowers, which are actually bracts that surround the true flowers and give the appearance of petals. Flowering dogwood is popular in landscaping and horticulture and has been used medicinally by indigenous peoples to treat fever and other ailments.

  • Nyssa sylvatica: Commonly called black gum or sour gum, this tree is found throughout much of eastern North America. It is tolerant of wet soils and is often found in swampy areas or near water bodies. Black gum produces small, blue- fruit that is an important food source for many bird species.

  • Alangium platanifolium: This species is a small tree or shrub native to parts of Asia, including China, Japan, and India. It is prized for its fragrant flowers, which bloom in late summer or early fall. Alangium platanifolium also has a long history of use in traditional medicine to treat conditions such as headaches, fever, and skin diseases.

  • Swida controversa: Formerly known as Cornus controversa, this species is a large, deciduous tree native to China, Korea, and Japan. It is prized for its distinctive tiered branches, which give it a unique architectural form. Swida controversa has been introduced to other parts of the world as an ornamental tree and is sometimes grown for its wood, which is used in furniture-

These species, like many others within the Cornaceae family, have cultural, economic, and ecological significance. However, some species within this family are threatened or endangered due to habitat loss, overcollection, and other factors, highlighting the need for conservation efforts to protect these important plants.