Red-osier dogwood is a medium to tall deciduous shrub, growing 1.5-4 m tall and 3-5 m wide, spreading readily by underground stolons to form dense thickets. Cuttings readily root, and it is an excellent shrub for live-staking along stream banks and in wetlands. In the wild, it commonly grows in wetlands and other habitats with damp soil. The branches and twigs are dark red, though they may lack this coloration in shaded areas.
The ovate to oblong leaves are opposite, 5-12 cm long and 2.5-6 cm broad. In the fall, the leaves are commonly bright red to purple. The flowers are small (5-10 mm diameter), creamy white in color and growing in attractive clusters 3-6 cm diameter. This species lacks the showy, petal-like bracts commonly associated with other dogwood species. The fruit is a white berry 5-9 mm diameter.
Red-osier dogwood is a popular ornamental shrub, often planted for the red coloring of its twigs in the dormant season, attractive white spring flowers, and fall color. It is particularly useful for restoration sites, wet areas, and stream banks.
Red-osier dogwood is known by several Latin names, including Cornus sericea, Cornus stolonifera, and Swida sericea. Other common names include redtwig dogwood, red rood, American dogwood, and (subsp. occidentalis) Western dogwood. 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.
- Light Requirements: Full Sun, Part Shade
- Water Requirements: Moist, Seasonally Wet, Perennially Wet
- Ease of Growing: Easy to grow
- Growth Rate: Fast
- Spreads: Yes
- Wildlife Support: Pollinators, Hummingbirds, Birds or Mammals
- Edible: No
- Mature Height: 15ft
- Mature Width: 6-9ft