Tree of the Month: Red Osier Dogwood

Scientific Name: Cornus stolonifera (formerly, Cornus sericea)

The Red Osier Dogwood is a favourite shrub among gardeners and landscapers because it is a showpiece all year long. In the summer it is lush green in colour while in the fall it has foliage of reds and oranges. It has bright red bare branches in winter, which contrast perfectly with the white snow. A common shrub found in every province and territory in Canada and much of the U.S, it usually grows as a loosely spreading shrub, but can also become a small tree. The trunks are generally about 10 cm in diameter, but can reach 20 cm. It does best in sunny locations, but can also tolerate a fair bit of shade. In the wild, the Red Osier Dogwood is commonly found growing along the edges of swamps, ponds, and streams. It can reach a height of 2.5 m (8 ft) and a spread of 2 m (6.5 ft), with a lifespan of about 30 years. It tolerates a wide range of soils and does well in moderately wet soil; it will even tolerate flooding. It has opposite leaves and branches, and produces multiple small white flowers in June, and clusters of bluish-white fruit that ripen in the fall.

The Red Osier Dogwood provides many benefits to the ecosystem it’s in. It offers dense cover for smaller wildlife, and birds like the downy woodpecker, robin, cedar waxwing and purple finch depend on its fruit. Bees and other insects are attracted to the pollen and nectar of its flowers. It has an extensive root system that helps reduce soil erosion along slopes and shores. It can also make an impressive looking hedge. Red Osier Dogwood branches have been used to make baskets, because they bend easily without readily breaking. Bare red branches placed in vases or planters add vibrant colour to any indoor or outdoor décor year round.


Image Source: Photographer: Reveal, James L. | Location Notes: Farmer’s Market area, Ithaca | Link: Wildflower Center Digital Library