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TREES & Plants

Gray Dogwood

Gray dogwood is a very adaptable, native shrub that is excellent for naturalizing, especially in difficult sites, such as along ponds and stream banks. Although its suckering, spreading habit makes it impractical for formal plantings, it can be incorporated into the shrub border and useful as a mass planting.  Creamy white clusters of flowers in May are followed by white berries in late summer that are quickly eaten by birds.

Botanical name: 
Cornus racemosa
All Common Names: 
Gray Dogwood, Panicled dogwood
Family (English): 
Dogwood
Family (Botanic): 
Cornaceae
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Shrub
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (foliage falls off)
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area
  • Illinois
  • North America
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 3
  • Zone 4
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
Growth Rate: 
  • Slow
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial sun (4-6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial shade (4-6 hrs indirect light daily)
  • Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)
Tolerances: 
  • Dry sites
  • Occasional drought
  • Wet sites
  • Occasional flooding
  • Alkaline soil
  • Clay soil
Soil Preference: 
  • Dry soil
  • Wet soil
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • White
Size Range: 
  • Large shrub (more than 8 feet)
Shape or Form: 
  • Multi-stemmed
  • Spreading
  • Thicket-forming
  • Upright
Landscape Uses: 
  • Windbreak
  • Massing
  • Hedge
  • Screen
Time of Year: 
  • Late spring
  • Late summer
  • Early fall
  • Mid fall
  • Late fall
More Information: 

Size and Form

10 to 15 feet high and wide; upright, thicket forming

Tree & Plant Care

An excellent plant for sceening or to use along ponds and stream banks.
Its suckering, spreading habit requires more maintenance and pruning  for formal plantings.

Disease, pests and problems

No serious problems

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 1
Occurs in disturbed woods, moist  ground along streams, wet meadows, and prairie margins.

Attracts birds & butterflies

White berries are quickly eaten by birds
Over 98 species of birds, including flicker, tanager, woodpeckers, and catbird are attracted to this plant for its fruit and use as a shelter and a nesting site.

Bark color and texture 

Younger stems have a reddish color, older stems are grayish-brown.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple, opposite leaves, 2 to 4 inches long;  grayish-green, elliptic to lance-shaped leaves.
Foliage turns an interesting (but not always showy) purplish red in fall.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Flat clusters of white flowers borne in terminal clusters in late spring; flowers have a slightly unpleasant smell.

Gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa)Gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa)photo: John Hagstrom

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Bluish-white berries  ripen July through October and persist into early winter.
Attractive bright red fruit stalks persist through winter.