Ode to Red-Osier

shrub with upright red stems and green leaves

Red-Osier Dogwood

Driving along the Blackfoot River today, the sun began to sneak through the fog shedding a beautiful light across the rippling water – a photographer’s dream!  The fall gold color of grasses against the blood red stems of Red-Osier Dogwood and Rocky Mountain Maple, the deep green of Ponderosa Pines, the white snowberries persisting on their branches long after the leaves have fallen – what a rich palette of color!

It’s unusual to see these bright colors at the start of December.  Usually plants are buried beneath a blanket of snow.

I can’t help but wonder what the changing climate will bring in the years ahead.  Climate predictions indicate that over the next century Montana may expect warmer, wetter weather.  Which of our native plant species will flourish and which will languish as the winters warm?

cluster of small white flowers among green leaves

Red-Osier Dogwood flower

I’m betting on Red-Osier Dogwood to thrive.  It will love more moisture and I think it will be fine with somewhat warmer weather.  Good news for those of us who consider it stunning in our landscape, great for birds that nest in it and consume its white berries, and good all of us who use it as a workhorse in revegetation projects.


several red branches with slightly curved red leaves of red-osier dogwood

Red Osier Dogwood

Other reasons for loving Red-Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea):

  • beautiful burgundy red fall foliage
  • fast growing reaching 6′ in 3-4 years
  • dense clusters of white flowers in spring
  • minimal care – give it water regularly in spring and prune hard while dormant to produce bushy plants

New growth on Red-Osier Dogwood tends to be long and straight (whips) that are prized by basket weavers who integrate the red color into their work.

We recently planted a windbreak/visual barrier along one side of our property and included a number of these. Although it does not prefer windy sites, integrated into a hedge with a variety of other shrub species it should manage just fine and if the deer don’t nibble it too much (a favorite browse source) we should have a quick growing hedge with wonderful color.