Cornus sericea (Red-osier Dogwood)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Genus:Cornus
Family:Cornaceae (Dogwood)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Origin:native
Habitat:part shade, sun; open wetlands
Bloom season:May - August
Plant height:3 to 8 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 4-petals Cluster type: flat

[photo of flowers] Flat to convex clusters, 1 to 3 inches broad, of short-stalked flowers at the tips of branches. Flowers are creamy white, about ¼ inch across with 4 narrow, lance-shaped petals, the sepals minute. The 4 stamens are longer than the petals, spreading to ascending around the single white style at center.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are simple and opposite, 2 to 4 inches long, 1 to 3 inches wide, lance to egg-shaped, the tip tapered to point, the base rounded to a 1/3 to 1 inch stalk. The upper surface is dark green with 5 or 6 lateral veins per side, smooth or variably covered in fine appressed hairs; the lower surface is paler, more typically with short, soft hairs. Edges are smooth.

[photo of twig] Twigs are reddish green during the growing season becoming deep red in the dormant season and flecked with an occasional grayish white lenticel (pore). The surface is mostly smooth and shiny or with very fine, straight, appressed hairs on the very tip internodes. Older bark lower on the lower stems can become roughish gray in part. Stems are typically in dense multiples from the ground, much branched above.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a round, berry-like drupe, about ¼ inch diameter, white, the cluster stalks green to dull purplish red.

Notes:

The dogwoods are distinguished from other flowering shrubs by the clusters of small, 4-petaled white flowers and opposite (except for 1 species) leaves that are toothless and have prominent, arching, lateral veins. Red-osier dogwood is by far our most common native dogwood. Shade intolerant, it frequents open and mixed shrub wetlands throughout the state. It is readily recognizable at some distance in summer months by its dense compact form and prolific flower clusters that appear in several flushes throughout the growing season, and in the dormant season by its deep maroon red branches that become even redder as spring approaches. Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum) also has red twigs but is distinguished by the denser pattern of lenticels, more densely hairy twigs, brown pith in older branches, and blue fruit.

Red-osier Dogwood has also been used somewhat frequently in landscape plantings, most notably with various cultivars like "Baileyi", which has curly hairs instead of straight. Cornus sericea is nearly indistinguishable morphologically from Cornus alba, or Siberian Dogwood, for which there are numerous nursery cultivars with characteristics such as variegated leaves, intensity of twig redness, etc. In fact, at least one reference treats C. sericea as a variety of C. alba, and the names are used so interchangeably in the horticultural trade that it is uncertain whether the bright yellow-twigged form call "Flaviramea" is of North American or European origin, though we have on occasion encountered more yellow-twigged forms that appear to be wild. USDA lists 2 subspecies of C. sericea, and other references have separated the dogwoods out of the Cornus genus into Swida, making Red-osier Dogwood Swida sericea, but none of these are universally accepted and not currently recognized in Minnesota. The synonym Cornus stolonifera is still used in some references but is an outdated name.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka and Ramsey counties. Pollinator photos courtesy Heather Holm.

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