pierre laszlo

Kousa dogwood: Cornus kousa or Benthamidia kousa (Cornaceae)

Native to Eastern Asia, this small tree, about 10 m tall, belongs to the dogwood family:
it has opposite, simple leaves, 4-10 cm long. When in bloom, it is a most showy plant. There is more to it than meets the eye, though. What we fancy to be flowers are actually bracts mimicking four-petalled white flowers. They display their spectacular beauty in late spring, weeks after the foliage appears.
This Sino-Japanese dogwood is thus a fine example of the distance, of the necessary dis-tance one might say, between conventional wisdom and scientific knowledge. The latter often departs from what appears to be self-evident.
Common knowledge, to elaborate a bit on that case, is based on perception, i.e., on sensory evidence. However, this pseudo-evidence is a social construct, based on a consensus validated by language. The naive observer of a kousa dogwood will admire its profusion of «white flowers». The word «flower» is indeed misleading. One might construe its prescientific meaning as «a growth from a plant, white or brightly colored, usually highly symmetric.»
Kousa dogwoods also have both bona fide flowers and fruit. The latter is an edible, spheri-cal pink to red compound berry two to three cm in diameter. The yellow-green flowers are inconspicuous clusters growing above the spread bracts, which give such a strong delusive impression of being flowers.