Red Osier Dogwood
Scientific name: Cornus sericea
Red osier or red-twig dogwood is a loose, spreading, multi-stemmed shrub, 6-12 ft. tall, with conspicuous red twigs. Dense, flat-topped clusters of creamy-white blossoms are followed by umbrella-shaped clusters of pea-sized white berries. Autumn foliage is colorful. Red osier is deciduous. It has very conspicuous red branches in winter, adding color to the winter landscape. The genus Cornus is Latin for a horn.
Red osier or red-twig dogwood is a loose, spreading, multi-stemmed shrub, 6-12 ft. tall, with conspicuous red twigs. Dense, flat-topped clusters of creamy-white blossoms are followed by umbrella-shaped clusters of pea-sized white berries. Autumn foliage is colorful. Red osier is deciduous.
It has very conspicuous red branches in winter, adding color to the winter landscape.
The genus Cornus is Latin for a horn.
Did You Know?
Red osier dogwood is used for basketweaving. Sometimes called red willow, both Salix species and Cornus sericea are used interchangeably.
Red osier dogwood grows in soils that are saturated for at least a portion of the growing season. Red osier dogwood is common on the edges of lakes, ponds, within wetlands, and along streams. Not as tolerant of long-term root saturation as are some other shrubs, dogwood seems to prefer wetland margins where soils are nitrogen-rich, saturated, and shallowly inundated in the spring, and may be completely dry by late summer. It is tolerant of fluctuating water tables. The “osier” in red osier dogwood is derived from French, meaning “willow-like”; it is often called red willow because of its red stems.
The bark, twigs, and leaves are bright green in spring through summer. The simple, opposite leaves are 2-4 inches long, dark green above and hairy and lighter-colored below, with smooth margins, rounded bases, pointed tips, and falsely parallel veins.
The fleshy fruits of dogwoods are very valuable to wildlife, particularly in the Northeast. The white berries are smooth on the faces, furrowed on the sides. The fruit ripens in late summer, and besides being available through the fall, some of the berries may persist on the plants into the winter months.
Flowering occurs from June to August. Dense, flat-topped clusters of creamy-white blossoms are followed by umbrella-shaped clusters of pea-sized white berries.
Wildlife browse the twigs, foliage, and fruits. Birds known to eat the fruit include: wood ducks, eastern bluebirds, cardinals, catbirds, long-tailed chats, crows, purple finches, yellow-shafted flickers, crested flycatchers, grosbeaks, kingbirds, American magpies, mockingbirds, crested mynah birds, orioles, robins, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, European starlings, tree swallows, scarlet tanagers, brown thrashers, thrushes, vireos, pine warblers, cedar waxwings, and woodpeckers. Game birds who eat both the fruits and buds include grouse, ring-necked pheasants, band-tailed pigeons, greater prairie chickens, bobwhite quail, and wild turkeys. The shrubs provide excellent nesting habitat for songbirds. Mammals that eat the fruit and foliage include black bear, beaver, mountain beaver, cottontail rabbits, raccoons, eastern skunks, squirrels, chipmunks, mice, and rats. Deer, elk, Mountain goat, and moose browse the twigs and foliage.
More on Trees and Shrubs in Lewisboro
Lewisboro was once entirely forested except for patches of open field caused by fire and wetlands and ponds which were expanded by beaver dams. Although it is hard to believe, by 1800 most of Lewisboro’s forests had been cut down and replaced by farms. In 1820 so many trees had been cleared that there was no shade anywhere along the route from Boston to New York. But by the mid-1800’s farming here became uneconomical and as farms were abandoned, the forests began to re-grow. Today, 70% of New York is once again forest, what some call ‘the great environmental story of the United States’. These new forests provide us with beauty and recreation, clean air and water, flood control, erosion prevention, carbon sequestration, cooler temperatures and habitat for other plants, insects, birds and other wildlife.
 Cronon, William. Changes in the Land. Macmillan, 1983.
 An Explosion of Green. B. Mckibben. Atlantic Monthly 275 (April 1995): 61-83.