The Red-osier dogwood grows to a height of 7 to 10 feet tall. It has green-red branches and twigs that become all red in winter (hence the tree’s name). Individual plants start as multiple stems from the ground and are heavily branched higher up. The dogwood is a clonal species that can colonize disturbed riparian areas quickly. The leaves are lance-shaped with smooth edges. Like all North American dogwoods, the Red-Osier dogwood is monoecious: each plant is capable of producing both male and female flowers. Produces creamy white-colored short stalk flowers that appear in late May to early June. Clusters of bluish-white fruit ripen in late summer to early fall.
Red-osier dogwood has nectar-rich flowers pollinated by many species of both long- and short-tongued bees, wasps, and butterflies. Red-osier dogwood berries are used by 95 different bird species. The berries are also eaten by mammals, including squirrels, and the seeds have even been found in bear scat. The seeds germinate better after passing through the gut of a bird than after being stored and dried.
Red-osier dogwood is fairly common in riparian sites, where it thrives in poorly drained shorelines, meadows, marshes, swamps, bogs, and fens. It is an indicator species for wet, basic soils. Red-osier dogwood grows well in sun or shade but is typically most competitive and abundant in intermediate to high light. It is often found in association with willows and cottonwoods.
In the Arb:
Red-osier dogwood is abundant in many sunny areas in the Cannon River floodplain. A good spot to see this species is along the Lower Loop Trail between Hillside Prairie and the Cannon River.