Dogwood is a small broadleaf shrub, typically found growing along woodland edges and in hedgerows of southern England.
Common name: dogwood
Scientific name: Cornus sanguinea
UK provenance: native
Interesting fact: in the sun the twigs are coloured crimson, while those in the shade are lime green.
What does dogwood look like?
Overview: mature trees can grow to 10m. The bark is grey and smooth with shallow ridges which develop with age, and its twigs are smooth, straight and slim. Leaf buds are black and look like bristles, forming on short stalks.
Leaves: The fresh green, oval leaves are 6cm long, have smooth sides and characteristic curving veins. They fade to a rich crimson colour before falling in autumn.
Flowers: dogwood is hermaphrodite, meaning the male and female reproductive parts are contained within the same flower. The flowers are small with four creamy white petals, and are produced in clusters.
Fruits: after pollination by insects, the flowers develop into small black berries sometimes called ‘dogberries’.
Look out for: a stringy latex-type substance can be seen if the leaves are pulled apart. The four-petalled flowers have a bad smell.
Could be confused with: many cultivated varieties exist and these often have different coloured stems.
Identified in winter by: newer twigs are bright red.
Where to find dogwood
Dogwood is native throughout Europe, Asia and North America. It is able to grow in damp conditions but can grow in many soil types. It is a popular ornamental plant and is used in gardens to provide autumn colour.
Value to wildlife
The leaves are eaten by the caterpillars of some moths, including the case-bearer moth, the flowers are visited by insects and the berries are eaten by many mammals and birds.
Mythology and symbolism
The origin of the name comes from the smooth straight twigs, which were used to make butchers’ skewers. Skewers used to be called ‘dags’ or ‘dogs’, so the name means ‘skewer wood’.
How we use dogwood
Dogwood is commonly used as an ornamental plant in gardens, where it is used to provide autumn colour.
Not many pests and diseases are associated with dogwood, but it can be susceptible to horse chestnut scale insect, a sap-sucking, limpet-like insect which feeds on a wide range of trees and shrubs. The damage is mainly aesthetic and does little harm to the shrub.