Featured Plants

Red-Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea)

The bright red twigs are beautiful in any winter garden, especially when planted against a backdrop of evergreens. Though the color is best when the plant grows in full sun, it also tolerates light shade. Unlike the Florida dogwood tree (Cornus florida), which is stunning in the spring, this shrub has relatively small spring flowers. However, the flowers attract many pollinators, and birds quickly consume the berries.

For the best winter color, prune this low-maintenance shrub when the branches are more than two years old or cut the entire plant almost to the ground in early spring. Only prune about one third of the plant each year. Over-pruning can reduce the number of flowers and berries. Red-twig dogwood is a tremendous four-season plant that deserves a home in every garden. Read more at the Rhode Island Wild Plant Society or the Missouri Botanical Garden.

The common name red-twig dogwood accurately describes this garden gem. Red-twig refers to the branches that become bright red in the winter. Its botanical name, Cornus sericea, also reflects its appearance. Cornus means horned or antlered, which refers to branching habit, and sericea, which means covered with fine silk or hair, refers to the silky hair found on new young leaves. The ovate to elongated leaves are 2-5 inches long and 1-2.5 inches wide. The plant is a fast grower and, unpruned, becomes 8-10 feet tall and slightly wider.

Red-twig dogwood is native to most of the United States and is a host plant for over 117 butterfly and moth species. It also provides pollen for our native bees. In unmanaged landscapes, it is an understory shrub mostly found by streams and riverbanks. But it will perform well in most garden settings. It can also be very useful in a rain garden where it thrives in the moister soil. Birds consume the berries, and the antlered branches make good nesting sites and shelter for birds and other animals.