Red-osier Dogwood
Cornus sericea

In a previous post I showed how to ID a dogwood down to its genus. I posted a profile of gray dogwood, perhaps the blandest flavor of dogwood, and now it’s time for the most delicious of dogwoods, red-osier.

QUICK WINTER ID + NOTES: Red-osier dogwood in so many ways wants to be a willow. It’s followed the willows down to the river banks, spreads asexually forming dense shrub thickets, and has exceptionally brilliant colors in its twigs. Even it’s name references willows: “Osier” is French for basket willow. In winter, it is one of the most immediately recognizable woody plants, with its fire-engine red stems that sprout up from open wet meadows in tightly bunched clusters.

It is most easily confused with silky dogwood, which often grows near red-osiers. Here’s a quick comparison chart for the twigs in winter

Silky Dogwood Red-osier Dogwood
  1. Twigs are a darker red
  2. Twigs often hairy, giving them a pinkish cast
  3. Hairs are yellowish, turning white at the tip
  4. Budscales covered with stiff yellowish hairs
  5. Buds small and light brown
  6. Leaf scars smaller and very dark
  7. Pith is brown
  8. Bark gets white striations on it by third year and base of shrub is often gray
  1. Twigs are bright red
  2. Twigs (at least on the east coast) are glabrous
  3. Hairs are black at base then brown and white/clear at tips
  4. Budscales covered in dark hairs
  5. Buds larger and often look red on stalk of bud and black overall
  6. Leaf scars larger, light in color
  7. Pith is white
  8. Bark stays smooth and red for many years

Red-osier dogwood terminal and lateral buds on left, silky dogwood on the right

Identifying Characteristics

HABITAT Stream banks, old beaver meadows, wetlands
MATURE BARK Red, smooth with some papery rough quality, but generally still similar to twigs (unlike with silky dogwood)
TWIGS Thicker than silky dogwood, bright red. Occasionally with small black spots (fungal disease?)
PITH White
BUDS Densely pubescent. Hairs black at base, brown in middle and white at tips. Long stalked. Stalk of bud is red and tips are either brown or black. Lateral buds small and typically very dark
FLOWERS Small white flowers in dense clusters
FRUITS White (occasionally faintly blue) fruits with small black dots; similar to doll’s eyes
SIMILAR SPECIES Very similar to silky dogwood. But red-osier dogwood has larger & darker buds, stouter twigs, less glabrous to lightly pubescent twigs, and its mature bark is smooth and red.

Research

  • Winter burning is not effective in controlling red-osier dogwood abundance in wetlands. Because I couldn’t access the whole I article, it was pretty unclear why they wanted to in the first place (link)
  • Sugar and starch concentrations vary seasonally (link)
  • Red-osier dogwood is an non-native invasive in Ireland, outcompeting the native C. sanguinea (link)
  • Red-osier dogwood is highly intolerant of road salt. This article gives a list of rankings of various species: link
  • Growth form plasticity in part accounts for its ability to form dense thickets in open areas but not in wooded environments (link)
  • Red-osier dogwood seems to be a common experimental species for looking at bud burst and winter dormancy

Gallery

Click images for full size photos

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