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The brilliant red stems of red osier are striking at any time of the year, but particularly during the gray and snowy days of winter.  The most prevalent of the 16 native species of dogwood, red osier grows 6-9’ tall and slightly wider in an upright-spreading, suckering form. Flat clusters of tiny, white flowers appear in May-June and attract over 100 species of pollinators. Flowers are followed by white, sometimes blue-tinged berries that are devoured by numerous species of birds. In fall, the green foliage turns purplish-red and eventually falls to reveal vibrant red stems.  The shrubs are self-fertile and grow quickly to bring breathtaking beauty to the landscape.


Native habitats include swampy and boggy areas, wetland margins, and edges of rivers and lakes.  Its thicket-forming habit and striking stems make an excellent hedge or screen, and its tolerance for wetness makes it ideal for rain gardens and boggy areas of the landscape.   The fibrous roots help control erosion on banks and slopes.  


Deer may browse the buds in winter, but the main stalks are not a valuable or preferred food source, and the shrubs benefit from this light “pruning.”


Plant Characteristics:

Grows 6-9’ tall and wide.


Thrives in full or partial sun. 


Adapts to acidic, alkaline, clay, and wet soils.  Tolerates dry soil once established.


Oval, medium-to-dark green leaves have prominent veins and gently curled margins. 


Multi-stemmed shoots are bright red to red-purple.  Older stems lose color.  Stems can be pruned yearly or cut back to the ground to rejuvenate the brighter red new growth.


Wildlife Value:

Dogwood supports 111 species of lepidoptera, including the false crocus geometer and red-humped caterpillar moths and the spring azure butterfly, plus 5 specialist moths that can only feed on dogwood: the bunchberry leaffolder and friendly probole moths, and 3 others.  (All Lepidoptera mentioned here are pictured in order.) The berries are eaten by over 18 species of birds, including ruffled grouse, bobwhite quail, wild turkey, and gray catbird. Twigs, buds, and foliage are browsed by deer, rabbits, and chipmunks.


Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

The bark can be made into a tea and taken internally for fevers, sinus congestion, coughs and colds. Applied externally as a wash or poultice, it can be used to treat dandruff and skin rashes.


Some Native American tribes ate the sour berries, and made an aromatic herbal mixture, “kinnikinic,” from the leaves and bark and smoked it as a tobacco substitute in ceremonies.  

Branches and shoots were used to make arrow shafts, bows, stakes, and other tools.


Dogwood’s unusually strong, flexible shoots have stringy white pith that, combined with the distinctive color, make the stems popular in the construction of baskets, furniture, and tools. 

Dogwood, Red Osier Cornus sericea

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