Cornus sericea, the red osier or red-osier dogwood,[2] is a species of flowering plant in the family Cornaceae, native to much of North America. It has sometimes been considered a synonym of the Asian species Cornus alba. Other names include red brush, red willow,[3][4][5] redstem dogwood,[3][5] redtwig dogwood, red-rood, American dogwood,[3] creek dogwood, and western dogwood.[3]


It is a medium to tall deciduous shrub, growing 1.5–4 metres (5–13 feet) tall and 3–5 m (10–16+12 ft) wide, spreading readily by underground stolons to form dense thickets. The branches and twigs are dark red, although wild plants may lack this coloration in shaded areas.

The leaves are opposite, 5–12 centimetres (2–4+12 inches) long and 2.5–6 cm (1–2+12 in) broad, with an ovate to oblong shape and an entire margin; they are dark green above and glaucous below; fall color is commonly bright red to purple. Like all dogwoods, they have characteristic stringy white piths within the leaf stalks, which can be used for identification.[6]

The flowers are 5–10 millimetres (1438 in) wide, flat, umbel-like and dull white, in clusters 3–6 cm across.

The fruit is a globose white berry 5–9 mm in diameter.



It is a variable species, with two subspecies commonly accepted:

  • Cornus sericea subsp. sericea – throughout the range of the species. Shoots and leaves hairless or finely pubescent; flower petals 2–3 mm.
  • Cornus sericea subsp. occidentalis (Torr. & A.Gray) Fosberg – western North America. Shoots and leaves densely pubescent; flower petals 3–4.5 mm.


The Latin specific epithet sericea means "silky", referring to the texture of the leaves.[7]

Distribution and habitat

It is native throughout boreal and temperate zones in northern and western North America from Alaska east to Newfoundland, south to Durango and Nuevo León in the west, and Illinois and Virginia in the east.

Cornus sericea L. has been recorded from counties Antrim and Londonderry in Northern Ireland.[8]

In the wild, the species most commonly grows in areas of rich, poorly drained soils, such as riparian zones and wetlands, or in upland areas which receive more than 510 mm (20 in) of annual precipitation. More uncommonly, it may be found in drier zones albeit at lesser abundance. Red osier dogwood is tolerant of flooding and has been known to survive up to seven years of water above root crown level. It occurs from sea level to 3,000 m (10,000 ft), but in many areas is most common above 460 m (1,500 ft).[9]


Red osier dogwood provides food and cover for many species of mammals and birds. The stems and especially new shoots are browsed by moose, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, beavers, and rabbits, while the fruits are an important autumn food source for bears, small mammals, and 47 different bird species. In winter, red osier dogwood is heavily browsed by ungulates; in some areas use exceeds availability and individuals which have not been browsed are rare. The shrub is also important for nesting habitat and cover for a great variety of animals.[9]

Cornus sericea is shade tolerant but prefers intermediate to high light levels. It tolerates disturbance well, and appears early in both primary and secondary succession throughout its native range, but especially in floodplains and riparian zones. It thrives in fire-disturbed sites, sprouting from seeds or damaged shrubs.[9]

Although its conservation status is overall secure, it is considered vulnerable in Iowa and critically imperiled in Kentucky and Virginia.[1]


Cornus sericea is a popular ornamental shrub that is often planted for the red coloring of its twigs in the dormant season. The cultivars 'Bud's Yellow',[10] 'Flaviramea'[11] with lime green stems, and 'Hedgerows Gold'[12] (variegated foliage) have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit (confirmed in 2017).[13]

Like most dogwood species native to North America, C. sericea can be parasitized by the dogwood sawfly, possibly leaving much of the plant devoid of leaves. A variety of pesticides are effective; however, hand-picking the larvae is also an option.[citation needed]


Cornus sericea is frequently used for waterway bank erosion protection and restoration in the United States and Canada. Its root system provides excellent soil retention, it is hardy and provides an attractive shrub even when bare in winter, and its ability to be reproduced by cuttings makes it a low-cost solution for large-scale plantings.[14][15]

Some Plateau Indigenous tribes ate the berries to treat colds and to slow bleeding.[16][17]

Known as čhaŋšáša in Lakota, the inner bark was also used by the Lakota and other Native Americans as "traditional tobacco", either by itself or in a mixture with other plant materials.[18][19] Among the Algonquian peoples such as the Ojibwe, the smoking mixtures, known as kinnikinnick, blended the inner bark with tobacco,[4] while more western tribes added it to the bearberry leaf to improve the taste.[16][20]

The Ojibwe used red-osier dogwood bark as a dye by taking the inner bark and mixing it with other plants or minerals.[3]

The withies, or osiers, are used in basketry.



  1. ^ a b "Cornus sericea". NatureServe Explorer. NatureServe. Retrieved 2021-05-11.
  2. ^ BSBI List 2007 (xls). Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-06-26. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  3. ^ a b c d e USDA NRCS Plant Guide: REDOSIER DOGWOOD. May, 2006
  4. ^ a b Hilger, Inez (1951, repr. 1992) Chippewa Child Life and Its Cultural Background, page 63
  5. ^ a b Hart, Jeff, and Jacqueline Moore (1992). Montana—native plants and early peoples, pages 38–39. Montana Historical Society. ISBN 0-917298-29-2
  6. ^ Fertig, Walter. "Plant of the Week- Red Osier Dogwood". USDA Forest Service. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  7. ^ Harrison, Lorraine (2012). RHS Latin for gardeners. United Kingdom: Mitchell Beazley. p. 224. ISBN 9781845337315.
  8. ^ Hackney, P. 1992. "Stewart & Corry's Flora of the North-east of Ireland." Third edition. Institute of Irish Studies, The Queen's University of Belfast. ISBN 0-85389-446-9 (HB)
  9. ^ a b c Corey, Gucker. "Fire Effects Information System". Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  10. ^ "RHS Plantfinder – Cornus sericea 'Bud's Yellow'". Retrieved 30 January 2018.
  11. ^ "RHS Plant Selector – Cornus sericea 'Flaviramea'". Retrieved 1 May 2020.
  12. ^ "RHS Plantfinder – Cornus sericea 'Hedgerows Gold'". Retrieved 30 January 2018.
  13. ^ "AGM Plants – Ornamental" (PDF). Royal Horticultural Society. July 2017. p. 16. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  14. ^ "Home". Archived from the original on 2012-02-22. Retrieved 2012-02-21.
  15. ^ [bare URL]
  16. ^ a b Moerman, Daniel E. (1998) "Cornus sericea ssp. occidentallis" Native American ethnobotany Timber Press, Portland, Oregon, page 178, ISBN 0-88192-453-9
  17. ^ Hunn, Eugene S. (1990). Nch'i-Wana, "The Big River": Mid-Columbia Indians and Their Land. University of Washington Press. p. 353. ISBN 0-295-97119-3.
  18. ^ "Herbal lore: Red Osier Dogwood". Archived from the original on 2012-05-11. Retrieved 2011-04-29.
  19. ^ Cutler, Charles L. (2002) Tracks that speak: the legacy of Native American words in North American culture, page 176. ISBN 0-618-06510-5
  20. ^ Staff (2009) "Bearberry" Archived 2010-12-18 at the Wayback Machine Discovering Lewis and Clark The Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation

External links

Media related to Cornus sericea at Wikimedia Commons