This species is often confused by the nursery trade with Cornus alba (Siberian dogwood).
Distinctive for its red/purple shiny branches in spring, fall and winter, this shrub is not only a beautiful ornamental, it is a vital environmental species.
Large mammals including moose, deer, bear,
mountain goats and beaver browse on its twigs, fruit and foliage.
Small mammals including squirrels, mice and game birds rely on it for food and protection. Birds too numerous to mention from crows to every type of songbird eat its berries and seek shelter. (USDA PLANTS)
Aboriginal peoples all over North America have used this shrub for many purposes: the twigs and branches for tools and basket weaving. The berries are used in many dishes and have also been employed for many traditional medicines. The plant has also been combined with grasses to make a ceremonial tobacco.
This flexible plant is still used by basket weavers today.
Seeds need a cold period before germination can occur. Cuttings can also be taken in the fall for propagation.
This can be used on intensive (high weight bearing) greenroofs (Terry McGlade, Gardens in the Sky).
Habitat Information: Red osier dogwood, one of the more common shrubs seen in the Ontario landscape, inhabits sunny moist to wet places throughout southern Ontario. It is has stoloniferous or suckering roots, so makes thickets which provide excellent cover for wildlife. Very robust, often it is the first to colonize wet meadows in floodplains and other wet areas that can be seasonally quite dry. In ecosystem restoration practice, larger trunks are cut from parent plants in early spring, and hammered into slopes of eroding stream. Red osier is easy to propagate and will usually root, and start to leaf out, creating new plants, colonizing the area, stabilizing the banks. Many birds including ducks, and a wide variety of song birds eat the fruit. Deer forage on other parts of plant as well. (USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service)
Garden Uses: It has dark red very flexible erect twigs, and is also called red twig dogwood for this reason. These showy twigs are one of the most popular cut boughs for winter pots sold at nurseries. (Evergreen)
Water Conservation: To be water conservation friendly, this plant is a great choice in a wet, and full sun or partial shade pond garden, useful at the outflow of a residential downspout, or for use in bioswales or stormwater ponds, where water is captured and held to create periodic or constant wet conditions. (Evergreen)
Insect Relationships: Long tongued bees, short tongued bees, wasps, flies, and butterflies. Short tongued bee, Andrena fragilis specializes in eating Cornus spp. (dogwood shrubs). Caterpillars of many moths, long horned beetles (Cerambycidae), leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae), aphids (Aphididae), plant bugs (Miridae), and others. (Illinois Wildflowers)
Traditional Edible, Medicinal Uses: Reports that fruit can cause nausea. Contradicting this, the fruit is also said to be is edible raw or cooked, but quite unpalatable, being very bitter. Often mixed with fruits like Juneberries, and dried for winter use by First Nations in North America. The seeds contain an edible oil. Little used today in herbalism, it was an analgesic, astringent, febrifuge, poultice, purgative, stimulant, tonic. Its bark was used both internally and externally to treat diarrhea, fevers, skin problems. Drying the bark removes its tendancy to be purgative. A decoction of the bark was used to treat headaches, diarrhea, coughs, colds, fevers. Externally this was also used to treat poison ivy inflammation, and ulcers, sore eyes, styes and other infections and skin complaints. Shavings of the bark used to stop bleeding of wounds. Poultice of soaked inner bark combined with ash was used as a pain killer. Bark was used as toothpowder to preserve gums and keep teeth white. Said to have cured hydrophobia. (Plants for a Future)
Other Uses: Dye, basketry, fibre, as this plant was used for making cordage, rope, red dye from bark mixed with cedar ashes. Rims of baskets. (Plants for a Future)
USDA PLANTS Database
David Suzuki Foundation
Plants for a Future
Terry McGlade has experience designing and establishing green roofs in Toronto, through his company GARDENS IN THE SKY.