Red-Osier Dogwood

Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera)


This low spreading shrub, seldom reaching more than 4 feet (1.2 m) in height, is easily identified by its red bark. It has small flat clusters of white flowers, producing white berries. Leaves are typical of dogwoods, with distinct veins running towards the tip, while buds are small and opposite.


Growing Conditions:

Found on wet sites and tolerant of flooding, it is common in roadside ditches, damp areas of fields and on streambanks, although it can grow well on drier sites. This dogwood spreads by suckering and layering, forming dense thickets. It grows best in full sun, but will grow slowly, and with less fruit production, in shade.


One of the easiest shrubs to grow from either summer or winter cuttings. For larger transplants, make cuttings in the summer and plant to a nursery bed when roots are established. Using this technique, our plants averaged 14 inches (35 cm) at the end of the second summer, with the tallest 24 inches (60 cm). Some were even producing seed. Smaller rooted cuttings are useful in stream plantings, enabling you to put in large numbers of plants with little soil disturbance. Cuttings can also be taken in the spring and stuck right in the ground where you would like the plants to grow, although you need moist, protected conditions and can expect less success. Seeds take one or two years to germinate, depending on the hardness of the seed coat, but they are easily collected in large numbers and worthwhile growing. Collect when ripe from late July to the end of August. Crush fruit, separate and soak seed for 12 hours before planting. This dogwood also transplants very well, especially from roadside ditches.

Wildlife Uses:

Berries are a preferred food of ruffed grouse, northern flicker, downy woodpecker, eastern kingbird, common crow, gray catbird, American robin, Swainson’s thrush, evening grosbeak, cedar waxwing and purple finch. They are well utilised by dozens of other species of songbirds, particularly during fall migration. The branches and foliage form dense summer cover, offering protection and nesting sites for species such as the American goldfinch. Flowers are an important source of pollen for honey bees. Red squirrels, chipmunks and raccoons include red osier dogwood in their diets, while snowshoe hare and beaver browse the twigs in winter.

Areas of Usage:

One of the most useful native shrubs for landscaping purposes, red osier dogwood is attractive throughout the year. Creamy white flowers, deep green foliage and red twigs (which make a striking contrast against a winter snowfall) make it an excellent choice for border or clump plantings. This shrub is also well suited for streamside plantings, especially since it is tolerant of flooding. It makes fairly rapid growth on sunny, moist sites and the spreading roots bind soil to control erosion. Thick foliage provides summer shade to maintain cool water temperatures for fish, while the cover and berries offer additional benefits for birds. Red osier dogwood is a good low growth shrub in windbreaks if conditions are not too dry. Clumps of these shrubs, so easy to grow or transplant, will add food, cover and beauty to plantings and increase the number of wildlife species that make use of your windbreak.

Additional Information:

Red-Osier Dogwood is found in damp sites throughout the province. It is a small shrub from three to six feet in height. The whi-like branches often divide into ascending branches topped with a rounded crown. It spreads by means of under-ground shoots so that a single plant quickly makes itself into a thicket. It is found in damp sites along the borders of swamps, streams and brooks, in pure thickets or with speckled alder. It is also found along hedges and fences. Its deep red twigs, pale green leaves tinged with red and white flowers makes it an ideal shrub for ornamental planting. The wood is of no commercial use.

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