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Gray dogwood

Flowers of gray dogwood.

Gray dogwood is a very adaptable, native shrub that is excellent for naturalizing, especially in difficult sites, such as pond 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.

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.   

Botanical name:

Cornus racemosa

All common names:

Gray dogwood, Panicled dogwood

Family (English):


Family (Botanic):


Tree or Plant Type:

  • Shrub


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Chicago area,
  • Illinois,
  • North America

Landscape Uses:

  • Hedge,
  • Massing,
  • Screen,
  • Windbreak

Size Range:

  • Large shrub (more than 8 feet)

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily),
  • Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 3,
  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8

Soil Preference:

  • Dry soil,
  • Wet soil


  • Dry sites,
  • Occasional drought,
  • Wet sites,
  • Occasional flooding,
  • Alkaline soil,
  • Clay soil

Seasons of Interest:

  • late spring,
  • late summer,
  • early fall,
  • mid fall,
  • late fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • White

Shape or Form:

  • Multi-stemmed,
  • Thicket-forming,
  • Upright

Growth Rate:

  • Slow

More Information:

Size and Form

A large, 10 to 15 feet high and wide upright shrub forming large thickets

Tree & Plant Care

Grows in full sun in wet or dry sites but best in well-drained soil. Tolerant of heavy shade.
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

Gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa)
Gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa)
photo: John Hagstrom
Flat clusters of white flowers borne in terminal clusters in late spring; flowers have a slightly unpleasant smell.

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.



Location of Cornus racemosa (Gray dogwood) at the Arboretum