When I was little my mother would talk about how beautiful certain trees and shrubs looked in the snow. She would speak of how beautiful the Birch looked with their stark black twiggy branches would show up so well against the white background. She also talked about the golden Willow branches which poked through the snow banks. Probably the most showy shrub which grew at the bottom of the lane near our house was the Red Twig Dogwood with it’s wine colored stems. Cornus (sericea)stolonifera is one of 3 similar species grow here and through the northern areas right around the globe.
There are several species of Red Twig Dogwoods which are so similar that you can’t really tell them apart at a glance. They all grow in shrub form, have almost identical flowers and reddish colored stems. Cornus stolonifera(sericea) which is the most vigorous grower extends from Alaska south to northern California and across North America through to Virginia. it has creamy berries with a bluish tinge. In Europe Cornus sanguinea is found which has black berries. Moving farther east we come to the final type; Cornus alba which is found from Siberia through Manchuria into to Korea and also has the creamy berries.
These three Red Twig Dogwood have some of the most attractive barks in the plant world. Many colors ranging from golden through peach and scarlet and then into maroons to almost black are represented in forms which can be found in nurseries. the deeply veined leaves have smooth edges and can be variegated in shades of cream, gold and even flashes of peach. Fall brings another show of color ranging from deep maroons through to peach and gold.
All three species of Red Twig Dogwood have flat cymes made up of tiny cream colored flowers, this flower structure is also seen in other Cornus species. In the right location the flowers will turn into bountiful crops of attractive berries which the birds like to eat later in the winter.
The berries that follow the bloom can be copious and attractive. Birds like to eat them, but we would find them too bitter. Cornus alba has black berries which I have never seen. Here the local cornus stolonifera produces good crops year after year. The seeds of these plants are amazingly hardy. Tests have been done on them taking them to -320 f in a lab, and then these same seeds have been germinated!
Red Twig Dogwood are easy to grow and adaptable to many conditions. they need require a site in full sun with plenty of water. They like rich soil but are tolerant of poorer soils. Often these plants grow in wet area and can be found along lake sides and in ditches. To produce the best stem color it is necessary to prune every 2 to 3 years and remove the older stems. Although these plants can grow to heights of 12ft(3m) and width of similar proportions you rarely see this unless it is in a wilder area. Normally these plants are easily controlled by pruning to 3 or 4ft (1-1.5m) heights.
As mentioned these are extremely hardy plant which grow in zones 3(-40c or f) through 8(-1c or 10 f). Because of there hardieness this is a good shrub to use in colder areas where choice is limited. It can be used in many ways such as mass planting, formal or informal hedges, foundation planting or as an accent. Various color forms make an excellent winter color feature when this plant will really stand out. Cut branches make a beautiful addition by giving bright color and height to bouquets and winter arrangements. The red branches are great for festive decoration.
To learn more about colorful Red Twig Dogwoods:
Great website with beautiful pictures: http://www.gardenseeker.com/cornus_pruning.htm
Another good read about Red Twig Dogwood: http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/1060/
Until we meet again….