Silky Dogwood 
Cornus amomum

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, then, red-osier dogwood, most delicious of dogwoods. I covered a lot of the features of silky dogwood in that post as they’re very similar. But silky is its own beast and so I’ll use this post to draw out its own unique flavor.

QUICK WINTER ID + NOTES: Silky dogwood is exceptionally good at layering, creating adventitious roots where stems come in contact with the ground. It’s also stoloniferous, sending out suckers from stolons (underground runners) that can sprout several feet away from the parent plant (think strawberry runners, but underground). As a result, silky dogwood forms dense patches. It often grows where red-osier and gray dogwood grows, but seems to be more common in wet areas than either, at least up here in Vermont. From a distance, silky dogwood can look like red-osier dogwood but overall has a slightly darker, purplish color, with the whitish hairs of the hirsute (covered in soft fuzz) twigs giving it a pinker appearance. These twigs also have a light brown pith compared to the white pith of all our other dogwoods. Additionally, the mature bark of silky dogwood appears in the 2nd or 3rd year as gray striations followed by a solidly gray stem (red-osier, true to its name, stays red and smooth through maturity). Up close, it still looks similar to red-osier dogwood, particularly when silky dogwood twigs are not pubescent. There are a few key features that will help you readily be distinguished one from the other, conveniently summarized in this fancy chart:

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 Gray and blockier, streaked in its 2nd or 3rd year (unlike red-osier which stays red and unstreaked)
TWIGS Thinner and hirsute (whitish hairs) but can be glabrous as well making it appear similar to red-osier. A darker red, almost purplish, that differentiates it from red-osier
PITH Brown
BUDS Densely pubescent. A very light orange/brown color. Leaf scars very dark.
FLOWERS Small white flowers in dense clusters
FRUITS Blue
SIMILAR SPECIES Very similar to red-osier dogwood.

Research

  • If presented with both decaying and undamaged fruits, birds preferentially selected the undamaged fruits, but no difference in consumption rates exist when no choice is available. Similarly, when white-footed mice were presented with both they were more likely to destroy the undamaged fruit’s seeds. Birds are dispersal agents as they do not digest the seeds, while mice do. (link)
  • Mice (Peromyscus spp.) seem to prefer eating native silky dogwood seeds over multi-flora rose, common buckthorn, Morrow’s honeysuckle, which could support invasion of forested areas by these 3 non-native invasives (link)
  • Another study found a lack of preference in birds between selecting the fruits (not the seeds like previous study) between Tatarian honeysuckle, multi-flora rose, silky dogwood, and the viburnum guelder rose (link)
  • There are no native trees to Vermont with entire leaves!! More and more research is coming out looking at the correlation between leaf margins and temperature, photosynthesis rates, and transpiration. Silky dogwood was used in one study that found: “first, physiological activity at leaf margins is greatest early in the growing season (first 30 d); second, toothed margins are more active with respect to photosynthesis and transpiration than untoothed margins; finally, leaf margins are more active in species native to colder Pennsylvania. The toothed species increase transpiration and photosynthate production early in the growing season relative to untoothed species and do so more in the Pennsylvania sample, maximizing carbon gain when temperature is limiting but moisture and nutrient availability are not.” (link)

Gallery

Click images for full size photos

More on the topic

Digging all this natural history content?

Become a monthly supporter on Patreon.

Be sure to check the archives for back issues.
And shoot me an email if you have an idea for a future blog post, newsletter issue, or podcast episode!

Support Crow’s Path

Subscribe to the Newsletter

STAY CONNECTED, LEARN NATURAL HISTORY