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. 

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