Nice Stems

by Nancy Rose

January 23, 2017

bright red stems of red-osier dogwood

Nice Stems

The Arboretum can look a bit dreary in midwinter, so any spot of bright color in the landscape is much appreciated. One highlight in the collections is red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), a large native shrub that displays striking red stems in winter. Several outstanding specimens (21079*A, 21028*A, 769-93*B) grow at the edge of Faxon Pond, right along Meadow Road, brightening the view for winter visitors. Adding to the color is a specimen of a yellow-stemmed cultivar, C. sericea ‘Flaviramea’, 21027*A, that contrasts beautifully with the red-stemmed specimens.

red-osier dogwood and a yellow-stemmed cultivar

Red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea, in background) and a yellow-stemmed cultivar (C. sericea ‘Flaviramea’) brighten the landscape near Faxon Pond. Photo by Nancy Rose.

Red-osier dogwood has a vast native range that covers all of Canada, Alaska, and most of the rest of the US except for a dozen south central and southeastern states. It is extremely cold hardy (to USDA Zone 2, average annual minimum temperature -40 to -50 degrees F — brrrrr!). Its typical habitat is moist-soil sites like pond or stream edges and damp meadows, but it’s quite an adaptable species and can grow in many different environments. Red-osier dogwood typically grows 6 to 10 feet tall and it readily spreads by stolons to form a sizable colony. It produces clusters of small white flowers in spring (and often reblooms sporadically throughout summer) followed by white fruits that are an important food source for many bird species.

Those showy stems actually aren’t so showy all the time — in spring, the bright red winter color fades to mostly green with a maroon blush. The red color starts to increase in late summer and takes on its brightest tones in winter. And the color is brightest on younger stems; Arboretum horticulturists regularly prune out older stems to keep our specimens looking so spectacular in the winter.

This bloodtwig dogwood cultivar (Cornus sanguinea ‘Wisley Form’) also has bright red winter stems. Photo by Nancy Rose.

Be sure to stop by the Arboretum ponds to admire the red-osier dogwoods and, by Dawson Pond, fine specimens of the related species, bloodtwig dogwood (C. sanguinea ‘Wisley Form’, 394-2007*A, B, C), which also brightens the winter landscape.

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