The other day my husband John and I were having breakfast on the deck, overlooking the prairie, and he asked “are those red things on the dogwood berries?” Nope, they were not, but from a distance the bright red stems left from the Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) fruits sure did stand out.
Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)
I love the distinctive branching pattern of the Pagoda Dogwood. It branches horizontally in a distinct tiered appearance, growing much wider than it is tall. It reminds me of a Japanese Garden.
Like all dogwoods, it has clusters or panicles of four-petaled flowers in the spring which form berries or drupes. Its berries are bluish-black in color with red flower stalks or peduncles. It’s clusters of creamy white flowers are flat-topped. They ripen in July. Later in the fall, the dark green oval leaves, which alternate on the stem (unlike other dogwoods), turn a lovely shade of reddish burgundy. It can handle full sun, but also likes part shade.
Gray Dogwood (Cornus racemosa)
I love all the dogwoods, but I think Gray Dogwood is my favorite. It’s white, dome-shaped clusters of flowers in the spring, followed by white berries on those beautiful red stems in summer are so striking. Unfortunately, the berries don’t last long once the birds find out they’re ready for harvesting!
That grayish bark stands out amidst its lance-shaped leaves which grow opposite each other on the branch. Like all dogwoods, each leaf will have three or four curved veins per side which are slightly parallel to the curved edges of the leaf. They are dark green on top and lighter green and hairy on the bottom. In the fall, the Gray Dogwood leaves will turn a sort of purplish red in color.
A Great Border Shrub
We have Gray Dogwood growing at the back (south boundary) of our prairie, where it gets lots of sun. It makes a great border and as I’ve already mentioned in a previous post, is an important element of any hedgerow. It is striking mixed in with American Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum tirlobum), Wild Plum, Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea) and some Cupplant (Silphium perfoliatum) for good measure. All these native plants seem to do well in the sometimes soggy soil of the back boundary of our prairie.
Any of the dogwoods are a great nectar and pollen source for a huge variety of insects, as well as a food source for many more insects, larvae and caterpillars. Birds nest in their dense branches which are opposite branching. Their berries are eaten by a variety of birds and small animals and its leaves and branches are eaten by Cottontail Rabbit and White-Tailed Deer. It is very definitely a highly desirable plant for any well-intentioned habit.
If the conditions are just right, sometimes the dogwoods have blossomed twice for us during the year. That’s an extra treat for both us and the birds.