The word “dogwood” conjures up a spring scene featuring the showy white floral bracts of the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida). While this small tree is deservedly popular, a variety of other dogwood species grace our woodland, wetland and successional habitats. These small trees and shrubs are particularly valuable as food and cover for wildlife. Many have outstanding landscape attributes as well.
Two similar species with colorful twigs are found in local wetlands such as marshes and fens.
Silky dogwood (Cornus obliqua) is a large, profusely branched shrub with purplish twigs. It produces 2-inch clusters of small white flowers in May that develop into striking blue fruit in the fall. Silky dogwood is common in wetlands in east central Indiana.
The less common red-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) has bright red twigs that are particularly showy in winter, making it a popular ornamental shrub. It has a longer flowering season that begins in May and lasts well into the summer. Consequently, the white fruits also ripen over a long season from July through October. Both species are large shrubs that grow up to 8 feet high and wide.
Even more similar are the gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa) and the rough-leaved dogwood (Cornus drummondii). Both species form colonies by producing clonal suckers from the root system. The gray dogwood is a shrub generally under 10 feet in height while the rough-leaved dogwood is a small tree, growing up to 15 feet in height. The easiest way to tell these two species apart is by rubbing the upper surface of the leaf. The gray dogwood is relatively smooth, while, as its common name implies, the rough-leaved dogwood has short stiff hairs on the leaf, giving it a rough texture. Both species have clusters of white flowers in the spring followed by white fruit that are an important food source for…