1268 Cornus stoloniferaCommon Names: red osier dogwood,American dogwood,red twig dogwood,yellow twig dogwood Family: Cornaceae (dogwood Family)
Red osier dogwood is a vigorous, spreading shrub that sends up numerous suckers from trailing underground stems (stolons) to form a clump of upright shoots 6-9 ft (2-3 m) high. Even the normally upright stems often fall over and root at their tips, and a happy plant can turn into a thicket. Mature plants have a rounded, spreading habit. Young stems are blood red and shiny. The deciduous leaves are borne opposite each other and are lance shaped to oval, around 2-5 in (5-13 cm) long. They turn purple, red or orange before dropping in autumn. Tiny white 4-petaled flowers are clustered in flat topped cymes around 2 in (5 cm) across. (A cyme is an inflorescence with a branching central axis and a flower at the end of each branch. The central flower opens before the flowers below or to the side of it.) The flowers are followed by pea-sized drupes (fruits with a single stone) that are creamy white and sometimes tinged with blue.
‘Flaviramea’ (aka ‘Aurea”), golden twig dogwood, has winter shoots that are bright yellowish green rather than red. ‘Kelseyi’ (aka ‘Nana’) is smaller, with shoots just 3 ft (1 m) tall that are yellowish with red tips. ‘Nitida’ has green stems. ‘Baileyi’ is a non-stoloniferous, single stemmed shrub to 10 ft (3 m) tall with shorter, brown shoots. ‘Pendula’ has arching stems. ‘Silver and Gold’ has leaves with white margins which turn yellow in autumn, and bright golden yellow stems in winter.
Cornus stolonifera ranges across North America from Alaska to Newfoundland and south to Kentucky and Kansas, and in Rocky Mountain wetlands to Arizona and New Mexico. Red osier dogwood is absent from Texas, Florida and most of the southern US. This is a shrub of wetlands, occurring along stream and pond margins, and in swamps, marshes, bogs and floodplains.
Light: Red osier dogwood performs best in part shade/part sun. They can handle full sun in the cooler parts of their range. Moisture: This is a wetland shrub and it needs a consistently moist soil. Even poorly drained clayey soils are fine with red osier dogwood, and they are known to survive extended periods of flooding. Hardiness: USDA Zones 2 - 8 . Summer’s heat and humidity in zones 7 and 8 render red osier dogwood vulnerable to diseases. It’s probably not even worth attempting to grow this Yankee plant in Zone 8. Propagation: Sow seed as soon as ripe in autumn. It is not necessary to remove the stone from the dried fruit. Stored seeds must be cold-stratified before they will germinate, and even then germination is sketchy. Six-inch (15 cm) stem tips are easy to root any time during the growing season.
Red osier dogwood tolerates wet soils better than most shrubs and is a good choice for planting alongside a pond or stream, or in a rain garden. Their spreading stolons send up numerous suckers and their arching stems take root at the tips as they form thickets that are excellent at controlling erosion. Fast growing and vigorous, red osier dogwood is good for massing (or should we say allowing it to form masses?) in larger landscapes and parks. It makes a fine hedge or shrubby border and is well suited for use as a screen. The shorter cultivars are particularly effective planted in front of taller shrubs. In the winter the shoots are dark red, especially showy against a background of snow, and even more so if some dark evergreen conifers are in the mix. Young stems show the best color, so you may want to remove a quarter to a third of the older stems each spring to stimulate the growth of new stems. Alternatively, renew growth by mowing all the stems down to a height of a foot (30 cm) or less every 3 or 4 years. If you don’t want red osier dogwood to spread out and form a thicket, you need to trim suckers and cut the stolons as they appear.
The flowers are pretty and modestly fragrant, but not show stoppers. Interestingly, red osier dogwood often flowers a second time in late summer after the fruits from springtime flowering have ripened. Where it occurs, red osier dogwood is usually the first dogwood species to bloom in spring and also the last dogwood species to bloom in summer. The fall foliage may be purple or red and can be very showy. Obviously, the blood red or golden yellow stems in winter make this plant a must-have in snowy climes. The drupes are showy too and may persist into the winter until discovered by hungry birds. A study conducted in New England found that at least 95 species of birds ate the fruits of red osier dogwood.
Native Americans used the stems of red osier dogwood to make many things, including baskets, baby cradles, arrows and fishing poles. They ingested the fruits of red osier dogwood and made tonics from the stems and bark to treat a variety of ailments including fevers and coughs, and to induce vomiting. Some of them even smoked stems and inner bark for an intoxicating effect.
Red osier dogwood rewards with pretty white flowers in the spring, clusters of handsome white fruits in summer, brilliant red and purple foliage in autumn and eye-popping blood red stems in winter. What’s not to like? Red osier dogwood is a popular garden shrub in Europe where it is sometimes called American dogwood. “Osier” is the common name of a European willow (Salix viminalis) and the source of the “withies” used in basket weaving.
Steve Christman 7/25/16