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A Comprehensive Guide to Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus alba)

Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus alba) is a shrub that is native to the northeast, north-central, the western United States including Alaska, and most of Canada. This plant is a host to the Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon) and the Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia). Growing from 8 to 10 feet tall, this species has white to yellow flowers that bloom from March to May. It is hardy in zones 3-7.

Taxonomy and Naming of the Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus alba)

Herbarium specimen of red osier dogwood (Cornus alba).
Herbarium Specimen — Cornus alba L. collected in Belarus by Moscow State University (copyright is managed by Dr. Alexey P. Seregin) (licensed under CC BY 4.0)


Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus alba) was originally named and described by Carl von Linnaeus in 1767. It has kept the same name since and is a member of the Dogwood Family (Cornaceae).

Varieties of Cornus alba

  • var. alba: leaves are glabrous or strigose beneath (Jepson eflora)
  • var. occcidentalis: leaves are densely hairy underneath (Jepson eflora)

Meaning of the Scientific and Common Names

Scientific Name

The genus name, Cornus, is from the Latin word “cornu,” which means horn (Missouri Botanical Garden). The species name, alba, is Latin for “white,” in reference to the white berries in the fall.

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name comes from the brilliant red twigs of this plant. Other common names refer to some of the native locations of the plant and include tartarian dogwood and Siberian dogwood.

Physical Description of Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus alba)

Fruit of red osier dogwood (Cornus alba).
Fruit of Red Osier Dogwood — AnRo0002, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons


  • Plant Type: This plant is a deciduous shrub.
  • Height: 8 to 10 feet
  • Stem: This plant has a trunk that is broken into squarish blocks when mature.
  • Leaves: The leaves are opposite, simple, entire, and cuneate to ovate in shape. The leaves are 3 to 6 inches long and about 3 to 6 inches wide.
  • Flower color: white, pink, green, to yellow
  • Blooming period: This plant blooms from March to May.
  • Fruiting type and period: This plant fruits with red berries in the late summer.

Range of Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus alba) in the United States and Canada

Range map of red osier dogwood (Cornus alba var. alba) in the United States and Canada.
Range Map Credit: Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2023.(website Chapel Hill, N.C. [maps generated from Kartesz, J.T. 2023. Floristic Synthesis of North America, Version 1.0. Biota of North America Program (BONAP). (in press)]

Variety alba is native essentially to all of North America except for the south-central and southeastern United States. It is considered to be rare in the state of Virginia. Variety occidentalis is native to the western United States including Alaska and western provinces of Canada.


Wet meadow habitat in NC.
Wet Meadow Habitat — “scene wet meadow Mason Farms ncwetlands KG (27)” by is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0.

This species grows in wet meadows, marshes, creek banks, and other wetlands, as well as the edges of forests.

Hosted Insects

Spring azure butterfly on leaf.
Spring Azure Butterfly — ALAN SCHMIERER, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species is a host for the Spring Azure Butterfly (Celastrina ladon), the Io Moth (Automeris io), and the Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia).

Other Supported Wildlife

House sparrow on log.
House Sparrow — Mathias Appel, CC0 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species is a nectar source to other butterflies, skippers, and bees. It is also a food source for birds in the late summer and fall.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus alba)

Is this plant deer resistant?

The NC Extension Gardener shows that this plant is deer resistant.

Does this plant have any ethnobotanical uses?

The Native American Ethobotanical Database does not list this species specifically, but dogwoods in general have been used pharmaceuticals and fibers.

How is this plant distinguished from other dogwoods?

This dogwood species is distinguished from others in having tertiary veins that are not prominent on lanceolate leaves. The fruit lenticels also do not have a purplish color.

Is this plant invasive?

This plant has not been shown to be invasive in the literature and is often cultivated for landscaping.

What are some interesting facts about this plant?

This shrub species is prized for its brilliant red stems in the winter.

Gardening with Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus alba)

Add Red Osier Dogwood to Your Garden

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White fruits of red osier dogwood (Cornus alba).
Fruit of Red Osier Dogwood — AnRo0002, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons


This species is hardy in zones 3-7. If your garden is within these zones and you have the right growing conditions (soil, moisture and exposure), you may well be able to grow this plant. However, if planted outside of its range, the hosted species may not recognize the plant or be harmed by ingesting a different species with an unfamiliar chemical composition.

Optimal Conditions

This species grows best in places that have full sun or partial shade with an emphasis on shade.

Cultivars of this Species

This species is often used in landscaping resulting in a large number of cultivars. This cultivar list comes from Gardenia and Bailey 1976):

  • ‘Argenteo Marginata’: cultivar that has grayish-green leaves with white margins.
  • ‘Astrosanguinea’: dwarf cultivar with crimson red stems.
  • ‘Aurea’: cultivar with yellow leaves and red stems in the winter.
  • ‘Bailhalo’: cultivar that is compact (5 to 8 ft) and has red stems .
  • ‘Gouchaulti’: cultivar with variegated foliage and has red stems in the winter.
  • “Kesselringii’: cultivar with purple bracts.
  • “Rosenthalii: cultivar having yellow/golden leaf margins.
  • ‘Spaethii’: cultivar with wide yellow leaf margins.
  • ‘Sibirica’: cultivar with coral red stems and blue fruits.

There are many more cultivars of this species.


  • Arnold Arboretum. 1956. Arboretum Spring Planting Notes. 16 (4): 21.
  • Bailey, Liberty Hyde and Ethel Zoe Bailey. 1976. Hortus Third. (New York: MacMillan Publishing Company).
  • Hebb, Robert S. 1973. Plant Registrations. Arnoldia 33 (3): 199-209.
  • Hollinshead, Martha H. 1936. Trailing the Dogwood. Torreya 36 (2): 37-40.
  • Weakley, A.S., and Southeastern Flora Team 2022. Flora of the southeastern United States. University of North Carolina Herbarium, North Carolina Botanical Garden.
  • Wyman, Donald. 1969. Plant Registrations. Arnoldia 29 (1): 1-8.
  • Wyman, Donald. 1967. More Plant Registrations. Arnoldia 27 (8): 61-66.
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Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe is a professional ecologist and botanist who has worked as the State Ecologist of Delaware and as an ecologist for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. He is also a former Past-President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. He currently is an innkeeper at McMullen House Bed & Breakfast LLC and a web designer and owner for Silphium Design LLC.