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Red-osier dogwood

Winter form of red-osier dogwood.

Red-osier dogwood is a large, 7- to 9-foot erect shrub best suited where the background, such as evergreens, will show off the dark red winter stems.  Besides attractive, red stems in the winter, red-osier dogwood has yellowish-white flowers that appear in late May to early June,  and bluish-white fruit borne in late summer. Fall color is reddish-purple. This species was formerly known as Cornus stolonifera.

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.

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.

Botanical name:

Cornus sericea subsp. sericea

All Common Names:

Red-osier dogwood, redosier dogwood, red osier dogwood, red twig dogwood

Family (English):

Dogwood

Family (Botanic):

Cornaceae

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Shrub

Foliage:

  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Chicago area,
  • Illinois,
  • North America

Landscape Uses:

  • Hedge,
  • Massing,
  • Mixed border,
  • Screen,
  • Specimen

Size Range:

  • Large shrub (more than 8 feet),
  • Medium shrub (5-8 feet)

Light Exposure:

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

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 2,
  • Zone 3,
  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7

Soil Preference:

  • Moist, well-drained soil,
  • Wet soil

Tolerances:

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

Season of Interest:

  • Early winter,
  • Mid winter,
  • Late winter,
  • Late spring,
  • Early summer,
  • Early fall,
  • Mid fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • White

Shape or Form:

  • Arching,
  • Multi-stemmed,
  • Round,
  • Thicket-forming

Growth Rate:

  • Fast

More Information:

Size and Form

A large to medium upright shrub reaching 7 to 10 feet high and wide

Tree & Plant Care

For best flowering and winter color grow in full sun. Tolerant of shade conditions.
Very adaptable to soil conditions, including wet soils.
This dogwood will form thickets. If left unpruned plants reach 7 to 9 feet high and 10 feet wide.
This plant thrives in moist sites along ponds or river banks.
To retain stems with good red color, remove a few of the oldest stems to the ground every spring. 

Disease, pests, and problems

Stem canker is common on this species, leaf spots

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 1
Common in wet sites.

Attracts birds & butterflies

Over 98 species of birds, including flicker, tanager, woodpeckers, and catbird are attracted to the plant’s fruit and use the plant as shelter. 

Bark color and texture 

Young stems  turn an attractive red in the winter.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Opposite, simple, 2 to 5 inch oblong to ovate leaves;  medium green, lighter underneath,  changing to reddish-purple fall color.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

1 1/2 to 2 inch flat-topped clusters of white flowers.

Red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea)
Red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea)
photo: John Hagstrom

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Bluish-white fruit (drupe) ripens in late summer.

Cultivars and their differences 

This plant is a cultivar of a species that is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. Cultivars are plants produced in cultivation by selective breeding or via vegetative propagation from wild plants identified to have desirable traits."

Bergeson's Compact red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea ssp. sericea 'Bergeson's Compact'): A compact habit reaching 4 to 6 feet hig, good fall color and red winter stems.

Budd's red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea ssp. sericea 'Budd's Yellow): A 6 to 8 feet high and 5-6 feet wide rounded shrub with bright yellow stems.

Cardinal  red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea ssp. sericea ‘Cardinal’):   8 to 10 feet high and wide;  spreading form with orange-red fall color and cherry-red winter stems; resistant to leaf spots.
Pucker Up! red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea ssp. sericea 'Neil Z'): A 3 to 4 feet high and wide upright shrub with glossy, puckered leaves and red twigs.

Location of Cornus sericea subsp. sericea (Red-osier dogwood) at the Arboretum