I love spring when the branches of the red twig dogwood begin to again glow a brilliant red. What an awesome sight.
Red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) is a great native plant to have in your landscape. From their white blossoms in the spring, and their deep green foliage in summer, to their rich, red stems in the fall and winter, these plants provide color in the landscape. Also called red osier dogwood, this shrub likes moist soil and thrives in our clay soils here in central Wisconsin. It’s a good plant for holding the soil on the upper banks of streams and rivers or along ditches and wetlands. Once established, its stolons will spread to form a thicket, and its branches will dip and root out where they touch the ground.
Where does the red come from?
The red color of the stems is caused by anthocyanins that vary from season to season depending upon the amount of sunlight. Consequently, in the spring, as the sun shines longer during the day, the stems get redder.
The lovely white to cream-colored flowers are ornate, flat clusters that often blossom two or three times a year. They’re also an excellent nectar plant, so bees, butterflies, and other insects are always buzzing around them.
Because their fruits are low in sugar, the berries don’t rot, and that means they are available later in the year when other more desirable fruits have already been eaten.The seeds are eaten by many small mammals, and by many upland birds and songbirds, their branches are eaten by the white-tailed deer and rabbits, and their thickets are used for nesting by the local goldfinches.
Like all dogwoods, it has clusters of white flowers. These flat-topped blossoms produce pea-sized, bluish-white drupes beloved by birds and small critters alike. It can handle full sun or part shade. Its oval and sometimes lance-shaped leaves turn shades of red and burgundy in the fall. It would be hard to find a more colorful shrub.
How to tell dogwood leaves from non-native buckthorn leaves?
Here’s a little fact shared with me by Don Vorpahl,* who helped me with the design of my prairie some thirty years ago: If you slowly, but strongly, pull a bit of dogwood leaf from the stem of the leaf, it will show a strand of filament still attached to the main stem. Buckthorn, or any other leaves, for that matter will not show such a filament.
See the U.S. Forest Service article Plant of the Week: Red Osier Dogwood for more information on identifying dogwoods.
Also see WDNR’s Never Mind the Cold, Think Spring!