Bush Dogwood

The image most people have of a dogwood is that of a small tree with beautiful white or pink flowers that bloom in the early spring--the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida.) There are, however, many native dogwood varieties that have multiple stems and fairly nondescript flowers--the “bush dogwoods.” Some of the bushy dogwoods found in the east are silky dogwood, red osier dogwood, gray dogwood, pale dogwood, rough leaf dogwood, swamp dogwood, alternate leaf dogwood, and Canadian bunchberry. Most dogwoods have opposite facing leaves (alternate leaf being the exception,) with the leaf veins forming a candelabra effect. These shrubby plants typically have green stems in the summer that turn to red to deep crimson in the winter. Most dogwoods flower in the spring and early summer, forming a bluish, purple to black “drupe” fruit in early to late fall. Many of these berries stay on the bush throughout the fall and winter, providing a good fall food source for many birds. These bushy plants often are very dense, and provide good cover for small animals and birds. The silky, red osier, and gray dogwoods are planted extensively where developing low shrubby wildlife cover is desired. The silky and red osier or red twig dogwoods do best in wetter conditions, while the gray tolerates drier sites.

Silky dogwood

Credit: David Barrow, FCFCDB member

There are nearly 60 species of dogwoods worldwide, half of which are native to North America. The name, “dogwood” is thought to be derived from “dagwood,” a name given to sharp, hard twigs that were used as daggers or arrows. Dogwoods are dense and hard, used in cutting boards, mountain dulcimers, canes, and tennis rackets. Many varieties of dogwoods are grown for ornamentals, like the flowering, or Kousa dogwood for its blooms, or the red twig for its dark crimson stem color in the winter. Colonial farmers often waited until dogwoods went into bloom before planting their crops as an indication they no longer had to worry about killing frosts.

Article by Mike Kay, FCFCDB member

Nature Note for 7/9/22