Simply The Best Natives-Red Twig Dogwood


“After all, I don’t see why I am always asking for private, individual, selfish miracles when every year there are miracles like white dogwood.” ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh



As spring begins, a wonderful native plant stands out in the bare garden.  Its red twigs shine in the bright spring sun.  Of course I am talking about, Cornus sericea, part of the Dogwood DSCN7311family (Cornaceae).  You may know it by one of its many other names:  Red osier dogwood, Red willow, Red stem dogwood, Red twig dogwood, Red-rood, American dogwood, Creek dogwood, and Western dogwood. 

Red twig dogwood is a deciduous loose-spreading shrub, growing 6-12 ft. tall, with smooth, dark red, shiny bark. Flat-topped, creamy-white flowers bloom in late spring, and give way to clusters of small white drupes (one-seeded berries) in summer. 

This dogwood is native to Newfoundland south to Virginia and west to Alaska and California.  You will find it typically growing in wetlands along river banks, lake shores, open wet woods, swamps, marshes and ditches.

The genus name Cornus is Latin for “horn”, and sericea is Latin for “silky”, referring to the texture of the leaves, and I suspect the bark too.  


As I profile this wonderful native plant, I am linking in with Gail@Clay and Limestone for her Wildflower Wednesday meme, and Diana@Elephant’s Eye at False Bay for her Dozen for Diana monthly meme. And I am joining forces once again this year with a local native plant nursery, Amanda’s Garden, to buy native plants for my garden.  The owner, Ellen Folts, specializes in woodland, prairie and wetland native perennials.  Check out their Spring 2016 catalog.




Growing Conditions

Red twig dogwood grows in part shade to full sun in moist, well-drained soil.  It will tolerate temporarily DSCN8268flooded sites.  And it prefers sandy soil.  But it is adaptable to many soil types, and grows quite easily in our wet, clay soil.  It is also drought tolerant, but not for long periods of time.

The woody root system of this dogwood is branching and shallow, and loves to sucker.  It spreads by underground runners and above ground stolons to form dense thickets.  I have to remove many new dogwood saplings in my meadow that pop up from the drupes the birds eat.

Red twig dogwoods are plagued by twig blight, scale and bagworms.  And dogwood sawfly occurs easily resulting in a plant devoid of leaves.  I do not spray when I see an invasion.  Instead, I cut the bush back to below the leaves later in the season.  The bush quickly puts on new growth, and recovers easily by the next season.

This dogwood is propagated by seed or cuttings. I cut many twigs for indoor winter arrangements, and they root quickly.




Benefits to Wildlife 

Red twig dogwood is a great native plant for wildlife.  The fruit, with its higher than average fat content, is enjoyed by songbirds, game birds and waterfowl.   Small mammals, like the White-Footed Mouse, and DSCN8850other rodents enjoy the drupes too, even though they taste mildly bitter and sour.

Some waterfowl use it for cover.

The nectar and pollen of the flowers attracts many kinds of insects:  bees, wasps, flies, and butterflies.

Deer and rabbits browse dogwood all year-round, but I have found they do no permanent damage.  Even if they chew it down a lot, it recovers quickly and grows back.  And I like the deer to browse mine, as they keep it pruned for me.

Beavers also eat the stems, and use them in their dams and lodges.  And it is even said the leaves that fall to the ground are eaten by some turtles.

This dogwood is also a larval host for the Spring Azure butterfly (Celastrina ladon)





Red twig dogwood is a wonderful plant for many seasons in the garden.  Especially because of its brightly colored stems in winter and early spring, when there is little to nothing growing in the garden. 

DSCN4572This dogwood is great in the back of the border, or used as a screen when left to grow into a dense thicket.  I love to use it as a trellis for clematis to grow through, as you can see in the picture at the top of the post.

And because of its tolerance to standing water, it is also used in rain gardens, and to help with protecting eroding banks along waterways.

The autumn foliage of this native plant matches the splendor of its stunning bark.  In fall, colors range from yellow, orange and bright red to purple.  You can see that fall foliage in the collage below.




Folklore and Tales 

DSCN8266Some Native American tribes ate the berries to treat colds and to slow bleeding.

Others used this dogwood’s inner bark as a traditional tobacco usually blended with other leaves.  

The Red twig dogwood was also used as a dye by taking the inner bark and mixing it with other plants or minerals.






red twig collage


Do you grow red twig dogwood?  What is your favorite dogwood or flowering shrub?





In A Vase On Monday 




I decided to cut some of the coleus I was overwintering for a fresh green, spring-like vase.  I am hoping to root this and get some plants started for this year’s containers.




coleus collage

I mixed the coleus with lemon balm also overwintering in the house.  I decided against picking any more of the iris or coleus, waiting for instead more hellebores to open with maybe daffs by next weekend.  The up and down temps are keeping the flowers to a minimum right now.


I am joining in with a few memes this week as I prepare this vase:  Cathy@Rambling in the Garden for her wonderful meme, In a Vase on Monday, Today’s Flowers hosted by Denise@An English Girl Rambles 2016 and Judith@Lavender Cottage who hosts Mosaic Monday.



Next up on the blog:  

Monday brings another look at what has been happening during some March moments in the garden.

I am linking in with Michelle for her Nature Notes meme at her blog, Rambling Woods.  It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Monday. 

All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2016.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only. 

90 Replies to “Simply The Best Natives-Red Twig Dogwood”

  1. Hello Donna, what a lovely post! Our Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ looks very similar. It’s really pretty with its brilliant red stems… and I love it because it’s so easy to propagate by cuttings. I like also C. alba ‘Kesselringii’, even more handsomely coloured.
    Wonderful photos. Thank you for sharing and have a lovely new week!

    1. Nice to hear you also are a Cornus lover Sara. I agree they are so easy to propagate. Your Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ looks gorgeous!

  2. I have three red twig dogwoods. They usually loose their leaves in the summer to dogwood sawfly larvae. No worries they survive and leaf out again later in the summer. I really love their winter color. Great post!

  3. Hello, the red twig dogwood is new to me. Thank you for sharing the info and the lovely images. Beautiful vase arrangement. Happy Monday, enjoy your new week!

  4. How interesting to read about the role of cornus in your part of the world Donna – in the UK it is a staple for winter colour and uis something I have really learned to appreciate. Your coleus and lemon balm look lovely and what a pretty little bell(?) you placed next to it. Thanks for sharing

  5. Dogwood! My absolute favorite. I grow red twig, yellow twig and two Pagoda Dogwood trees. All beautiful, all loved by wildlife, all attract many birds. It is usually in the Dogwood that I discover new birds visiting the Violet Fern garden. I have only one shrub that is affected by the sawfly and I find that parasitic wasps eat those caterpillars so I leave all alone. I don’t even cut it back and by summer’s end, it has beautiful new leaves again. I would love to find some space for grey dogwood as well. Wonderful coleus! I can see why you would like that one to root, Donna.

    1. Good to know that I might not have to cut mine back if sawfly occurs again. I should look for other cornus to add to the garden….I had not heard of grey dogwood, so I will have to check it out. Safe travels!

  6. I like red twig dogwood but don’t grow it myself. Corpus florida is flowering all around us for a good show this spring.

  7. I think people plant red twig dogwood down here in Tennessee, but from what I’ve read (and observed) it doesn’t really thrive here as it does in Northern states.

    I tried growing C. florida one year, but it totally fried (not enough shade yet in my garden, plus I planted it in the wrong spot).

    This year, I’m trying C. amomum (interestingly also known as ‘silky dogwood’) in a partial shade spot. So far, so good. It has leafed out nicely this spring. It also has red stems in winter, though I think they’re supposed to be a touch less vibrant than C. sericea’s.

  8. I’ve never heard of Red-twig Dogwood before Donna, this has been very interesting and I love the photos as always. Thanks for sharing again with Today’s Flowers. Spring is bringing us a lot of beautiful flowers.

  9. I’ve always admired dogwood trees – it’s too bad they’re so thirsty! You made good use of the plants you had on hand for your vase. I like to grow coleus for its vase-value myself but, even in my climate, I have trouble keeping it alive in the garden proper through our excuse for a winter and usually have to start it over each year.

    1. That is too bad about coleus for you Kris….and oh yes those dogwoods are thirsty which is good for my garden!

  10. Redtwigs are great, esp. in winter. I have a variegated leaf variety, but it is only nice in the spring before the leaves become a bit bedraggled. The key is to keep the branches heavily pruned to keep them vibrantly suckering new growth. I also love the yellow/gold twigged types. We get so little color in winter, they are well loved.

    1. I had not seen a variegated dogwood….I agree pruning is key. And if my deer don’t prune them, then I do! I will check out the yellow twig too! Thanks.

  11. I am also rooting some Coleus for containers, I am going to try some in my horrible sandy soil. Just because they were free!
    Red Twig Dogwood is such a pretty plant, I have never lived far enough north to grow them.

    1. Good luck with the coleus…I grow mine in containers since I have heavy wet clay…and the coleus don’t like it.

  12. I love dogwood too for its lovely red stems. I also have orange and yellow for the winter garden.
    A pretty vase with the coleus.

  13. I saw many Dogwood trees when I lived in Brooklyn, NY, but not too many in Colorado. We get frequent spring snows, so probably they do not flourish well here. We had a blizzard last week and a major melt is going on. I’m sure more snow will arrive before Spring is over. It is welcomed here as we need the moisture–it has been very dry until now!

    I hope you had a very Happy Easter!

    1. OH dogwoods love snow…we get 15 feet a year here. But it might be your altitude they don’t like. Hope the melt keeps going…we had a nice Easter in the garden…how about you?

  14. Good to know about the easy rooting of the dogwood. I could definietly use more of this plant. The coleus is super-easy to root as well.

    1. Oh I have about 30-50 red twig that have been started all over the garden mostly from berry seed…I am forever pulling them out.

  15. A lovely vase this week Donna – especially as your flowers are limited. Spring has been very slow here in Suffolk as well and I am just starting to feel like spring is reaching my garden. I love the feeling of the start of spring with everything ahead of us – happy easter to you Donna. xx

    1. I am surprised spring has been slow there too Julie. I too love the feeling of spring…hope you had a great Easter!

  16. I’ve never seen coleus used as a cut “flower” before — it is a lovely idea; my MIL grew coleus and it always makes me think of her — other than her garden, I’ve only ever seen it as a house plant.

    Anne Lindbergh was right. Dogwood is a little miracle. We are usually lucky enough to see it blooming when we get back to Oregon.

  17. I live near some marshy areas, and I see the dogwood’s red stems just packed in these areas. I used to cut a few stems to decorate a vase at Christmas time. Interesting post with lots of information I didn’t know about this wild shrub. I like how you have the clematis climbing up yours 🙂

    1. Exactly Wendy…dogwood loves the muck. Happy you enjoyed the post…the clematis was a lucky mistake actually.

  18. Interesting to read about your native dogwood Donna. That coleus has most striking foliage. I didn’t realise that you cut take cuttings of coleus so you’ve given me food for thought 🙂

    1. Isn’t it just stunning that coleus. And yes coleus roots quickly. Now to get it into a pot and surviving the transplant.

  19. Hi Donna, I made a decision when we removed our front lawn to plant the yellow twig dogwood and although not as brilliant against the snow, all the same benefits of the red. Mine flowers twice and the robins fight over the berries each time.

    1. Nice to have it flower twice…I have noticed if mine is in the sun, it may repeat bloom a bit. The birds strip mine fast too especially the robins!

  20. Good review of this shrub dogwood. I have a couple in the garden but neither are in very good locations (too much shade) so both bloom pretty sparsely.

  21. I’m not familiar with the red twig dogwood, but now I want to be! Ours are white and sometimes pink, and so beautiful. I will have to research this and our conditions here. Wealth of info in this post. Thanks for sharing. I will have to go back and read again so didn’t miss anything.
    Have a great week……..

  22. I like the red twigs in the winter, good information, Donna! Your Coleus has a nice lacy appearance. My rooted Coleus starts were not watched enough and dried up on me. I hope your weather warms up and you get some flowers by next week!

  23. I have a red stemmed Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ and a white-green version ‘Argenteomarginata’, as well yellow-green version ‘Gouchhaultii’. They are good bushes.

  24. Donna, The dogwood certainly has wonderfully colored stems. I’m not a gardener but a photographer and the picture with the stems against the snow is great. This session of Mosaic Monday has been filled with great educational bits. Thanks for sharing. Sylvia D.

  25. Yes, I do grow red dogwood in my garden Donna. It pleases me every time in winter when I see its red branches as on your photo. I have Cornus alba ‘Ivory Halo’ variety, is very hardy and winters well.
    Coleus is such delicate plant and I’m glad you could overwinter it, nice vase!

  26. a lovely interesting post about coloured dogwood Donna, I grow red and yellow dogwoods, I also have coloured stemmed willows, here due to the winter storms burning the foliage on evergreens, the coloured stem shrubs and trees are my winter colour, the dogwoods do also give the most beautiful autumn colour,
    I hope you are having some better days, here there is an icy cold wind blowing, Frances

    1. Oh those willows sound gorgeous Frances….we have had exactly 3 good days of late….now we will have about 10 days of cold, snow and rain.

  27. It’s always nice to spot some red stems of cornus in our hedgerows here in winter. Lovely photos, and a lovely vase. That little bell is pretty too. 🙂

    1. Oh too funny Dee….how can you beat a plant that just grows in some of the worst conditions without much fuss!

  28. Oh my goodness…I have never seen this before…with a purple bloom…really?? How beautiful! And your arrangements in the vases are always so lovely too…every time I see a coleus, it reminds me of my sweet mom. Beautiful post, Donna!

  29. The red twigged dogwood was a good choice, I love them! Mine was defoliated last summer by the dogwood sawfly, which surprised me since I’ve never noticed the buggers before. I’m hoping they won’t be back, but guessing they will now that they’ve found a good spot to raise a family….

    1. Once I clipped both of mine back that had sawfly, they seemed to have left them alone…but thankfully they don’t kill the plant.

    1. Wonderful Michelle…I have dozens of little volunteers…happy to send some to you…they are very light and easy to send…let me know!

  30. Even if i haven’t seen what a dogwood is, i know they have lovely red colors. At least your last photo, coleus, is a tropical plant and we have lots of colors and variations of that.

  31. I love this kind of dogwood. We have mostly the white colored flowers here. Some grow wild around us. I did buy a Chinese Dogwood that has tiny flowers. There is a pink dogwood also. I love the lovely photos and information on your blog! Thanks so much for the comments on my blog. Have a great weekend. cheers.

    1. How lovely to have wild dogwoods growing around you. Mine are spreading and getting wild too in the wild area behind us.

  32. The Red Twig Dogwood has many attributes, especially its brilliant red bark in wintertime and the fact that is is native makes it even better. I enjoyed the folklore behind this plant. It does make sense that it was used for dyes…so interesting! I didn’t know about the use for tobacco either.

  33. An informative profile of a lovely plant, Donna. I don’t have one, I’m sorry to say. My favorite shrub right now is mock orange. I think I may feature it in my next posting. P. x

    1. Well Pam I am happy to send one or 2 or three. I have many starts I will be digging out soon and composting. And they are light to ship…let me know!

  34. I love the red twigs against the snow, beautiful. I grow quite a few ornamental dogwoods for their coloured stems in winter, your native looks like a lovely addition to any garden.

    1. Thanks Janet…would love to send you a few volunteers as I have many, but I don’t think that would be allowed.

  35. Red twig dogwood is so beautiful. I tried to grow several of them once, but one by one they slowly perished during our hot summer. Now I stick with Cornus florida, our native.

  36. I had always thought these needed wet conditions (rather than just tolerating them). Now that I know they prefer well-drained sandy soil, I look forward to adding some to my garden. Thanks for enlightening me!

    1. My pleasure…it is a very versatile native and all the resources I read say it will thrive in sand as well as my clay! I have many volunteers here that we will be digging up soon in the meadow, and getting rid of. Happy to send you some if you’d like any!

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