CDC Logo

BC Conservation Data Centre: Species Summary

Cornus sericea
red-osier dogwood

Scientific Name: Cornus sericea L.
English Name: red-osier dogwood
Classification / Taxonomy
Scientific Name - Concept Reference: Kartesz, J.T. 1999. A synonymized checklist and atlas with biological attributes for the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. First edition. In: Kartesz, J.T., and C.A. Meacham. Synthesis of the North American Flora, Version 1.0. North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Classification Level: Species
Species Group: Vascular Plant
Species Code: CORNSER
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Plantae Anthophyta Dicotyledoneae Cornales Cornaceae
Conservation Status / Legal Designation
Global Status: G5 (May 2016)
Provincial Status: S5 (Apr 2019)
BC List: Yellow
Provincial FRPA list:   
Provincial Wildlife Act:
SARA Schedule:
General Status Canada: 4 - Secure (2010)
Ecology & Life History
General Description:
Technical Description: Leaves are broadly ovate to oblong-lanceolate, simple and opposite, 5-15 cm long and 3-9 cm wide, dark green above, paler to whitened and glabrous beneath. Flowers are small, dull white in flattish-topped cymes. The fruit is a rounded white or bluish drupe, 6 mm or more in diameter (Fernald 1950, Soper and Heimburger 1982). Where they occur together, C. stolonifera may be told from C. racemosa by its flat or rounded, as opposed to pyramidal, inflorescence, and twigs red with a white pith, as opposed to tan or gray twigs with a white pith becoming brown by the second year (Stephens 1973).
Similar Species:
Global Reproduction Comments: Sexual reproduction: These dogwoods probably reach sexual maturity in three to four years. There is one viable seed per drupe in all four species (Stephens 1973).

Seed dispersal: Seeds are dispersed by a variety of birds, including crows, vireos, redheaded woodpeckers and bluebirds (Ridley 1930), autumn through winter (Stephens 1973). Availability of perching sites may be important in dispersal.

Germination: Germination usually occurs in the spring following seed production and dispersal to a favorable site, but may be delayed a year due to a dormant embryo, hard pericarp (Brinkman 1974), and possible chemical inhibition by the pulp (Goodwin 1948). Mechanical and chemical scarification and stratification techniques are used commercially to stimulate germination in dogwood (Brinkman 1974). C. racemosa and C. stolonifera are described by Krefting and Roe (1949) as having "double dormancy", or requiring two periods of stratification for germination. C. stolonifera seeds that were treated first with acids then with cold stratification experienced almost 100% germination, whereas germination was much lower for those seeds receiving cold treatment only. However, seeds of both species that were twice stratified by passage through quail or pheasant gut plus cold treatment also gave relatively low percent germination. The authors suggested that this was due to a large amount of variability in the extent of scarification from the bird gizzards. Some seeds are injured or overstratified in the bird gut and some are left unscathed or understratified (Krefting and Roe 1949).

Seedling establishment: Some Cornus spp. shrub seedlings are tolerant of variable light intensities, and may become established in woodland edges, within woods, or in open areas (Gatherum et al. 1963, Smith 1975). Seedlings may invade grasslands alone or with other woody plants (McClain pers. comm.).

Asexual reproduction: C. drummondii, C. racemosa, C. stolonifera and C. obliqua reproduce most successfully by vegetative growth following seedling establishment. Thickets may expand by adventitious underground shoot growth or rhizomatous growth (Stephens 1973, Wilson 1965, Smith 1975).
Global Ecology Comments: Populations: Dogwood invasion of grasslands from swales, ravines, and woodland edges of floodplains is accelerated by vegetative reproduction and tolerance to wind, full exposure or partial shade, and dry soils (Pound and Clements 1900, Costello 1931, Steyermark 1940, Albertson and Weaver 1945, Weaver 1965, Duxbury 1982).

As density within a dogwood thicket increases, groundcover vegetation decreases and may become entirely absent (Aikman 1928, Weaver 1965). Annual weeds sometimes grow beneath dogwood (Duxbury 1982, Nyboer pers. comm. 1983), and bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) may invade dogwood thickets (Albertson and Weaver 1945, Aikman 1928). Dogwood may persist and sometimes dominate the understory of woods (Duxbury 1982).
(Type / Subtype / Dependence)
Global Habitat Comments: It grows in low, damp ground along shores, river flats, marshes, damp open woods, and roadsides (Soper and Heimburger 1982). In Wisconsin, Haglund (pers. comm.) described C. stolonifera as an inhabitant of sedge meadows, calcareous fens, wet mesic prairies, and stream banks.
Provincial Phenology:
(1st half of month/
2nd half of month)
Elevation (m) (min / max): Provincial: 
Known Pests:
Pollen Vector: BIOTIC
Insects, other
Dispersal: BIOTIC
Provincial Inventory
Inventory Priority:
Ownership of occurrences (Known locations):
Inventory Need:
Economic Attributes
Global Economic Use: Cultivated ornamental
Endemic: N
Global Range Comment: C. stolonifera is native to North America and occurs along shores and in thickets from Newfoundland and S. Labrador west to Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, and south to New Mexico, Arizona and California (Fernald 1950).
Disjunct, more common elsewhere:
Peripheral, major distribution elsewhere:
Authors / Contributors
Global Information Author: C. CONVERSE, 1984, UPDATE BY NANCY ECKARDT, MRO
Last Updated: Feb 22, 1988
Provincial Information Author:
Last Updated:
Last Literature Search:
References and Related Literature
Little, E.L., Jr. 1979. Checklist of United States trees (native and naturalized). Agriculture Handbook No. 541. U.S. Forest Service, Washington, D.C. 375 pp.

Please visit the website Conservation Status Ranks for definitions of the data fields used in this summary report.

Suggested Citation:

B.C. Conservation Data Centre. 1988. Species Summary: Cornus sericea. B.C. Minist. of Environment. Available: (accessed Sep 29, 2023).