Plant Profile: Cornus sericea

by Veronica Wisniewski, Fourth Corner Nurseries

Previously Named: Cornus stolonifera

Common Names: Red Osier Dogwood, Red Twig Dogwood

Red osier dogwood is a common deciduous shrub growing to about 8 to 20 feet tall, occurring across North America below 7,500 feet in elevation. It is typically found in areas with saturated soils for at least part of the growing season, such as the edges of lakes, streams and wetlands. This shrub has excellent value for both wildlife habitat and in ornamental landscaping. Dozens of species of birds and mammals eat the fleshy fruits of dogwood, which ripen in late summer and are often available through the fall. Deer, elk, and moose browse the twigs and foliage. Dogwoods are prized in landscapes for their clusters of white flowers in June-July, berries, lovely fall color, and reddish to purple stems which are showy even without leaves in the winter. They are tolerant of a fluctuating water table, either sun or partial shade, and can be pruned or coppiced to maintain a desired height.

As a species with a wide geographic distribution, variable genetic traits from different bioregions are quite noticeable. We at Fourth Corner Nurseries grow Cornus sericea from at least five areas. This photo shows dogwood from Utah and eastern Washington completely dormant, from western Oregon still with green leaves, and from western Washington with a lovely pinky fall leaf color. If you purchase Cornus sericea from a seed source different than your area, do not be surprised if the plants perform differently than you expect in terms of timing of spring leaf-out and fall dormancy, rate of growth, and disease susceptibility.