Cornus sericea, syn. C. stolonifera, Swida sericea, (red osier dogwood) is a species of flowering plant in the family Cornaceae, native throughout northern and western North America from Alaska east to Newfoundland, south to Durango and Nuevo León in the west, and Illinois and Virginia in the east. Other names include red willow,, redstem dogwood redtwig dogwood, red-rood, American dogwood, creek dogwood, and western dogwood.
In the wild, it commonly grows in areas of damp soil, such as wetlands. It is a medium to tall deciduous shrub, growing 1.5–4 m tall and 3–5 m wide, spreading readily by underground stolons to form dense thickets. The branches and twigs are dark red, although wild plants may lack this coloration in shaded areas. The leaves are opposite, 5–12 cm long and 2.5–6 cm broad, with an ovate to oblong shape and an entire margin; they are dark green above and glaucous below; fall color is commonly bright red to purple. The flowers are small (5–10 mm diameter), dull white, in clusters 3–6 cm diameter. The fruit is a globose white berry 5–9 mm diameter.
Cornus sericea is a popular ornamental shrub that is often planted for the red coloring of its twigs in the dormant season. The cultivar 'Flaviramea' has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.
Like most dogwood species native to North America, C. sericea can be parasitized by the dogwood sawfly, possibly leaving much of the plant devoid of leaves. A variety of pesticides are effective; however, hand-picking the larvae is also an option.
C. sericea is frequently used for waterway bank erosion protection and restoration in the United States and Canada. Its root system provides excellent soil retention, it is hardy and provides an attractive shrub even when bare in winter, and its ability to be reproduced by cuttings makes it a low cost solution for large scale plantings.
Known as cansasa in Lakota, the inner bark was also used by the Lakota and other Native Americans as "traditional tobacco", either by itself or in a mixture with other plant materials. Among the Algonquian peoples such as the Ojibwe, the smoking mixtures, known as kinnikinnick, blended the inner bark with tobacco, while more western tribes added it to the bearberry leaf to improve the taste.
The Ojibwe used red osier dogwood bark as a dye by taking the inner bark, mixing it with other plants or minerals.
It is a variable species, with two subspecies commonly accepted:
- Cornus sericea subsp. sericea - throughout the range of the species. Shoots and leaves hairless or finely pubescent; flower petals 2-3 mm.
- Cornus sericea subsp. occidentalis (Torr. & A.Gray) Fosberg - western North America. Shoots and leaves densely pubescent; flower petals 3-4.5 mm.
Cornus: specimen botanicum sistens descriptiones et icones specierum corni minus cognitarum
- USDA NRCS Plant Guide: REDOSIER DOGWOOD
- Hilger, Inez (1951, repr. 1992) Chippewa Child Life and Its Cultural Background, page 63
- Hart, Jeff, and Jacqueline Moore (1992). Montana—native plants and early peoples, pages 38-39. Montana Historical Society. ISBN 0-917298-29-2
- Moerman, Daniel E. (1998) "Cornus sericea ssp. occidentallis" Native American ethnobotany Timber Press, Portland, Oregon, page 178, ISBN 0-88192-453-9
- Hunn, Eugene S. (1990). Nch'i-Wana, "The Big River": Mid-Columbia Indians and Their Land. University of Washington Press. p. 353. ISBN 0-295-97119-3.
- Herbal lore: Red Osier Dogwood
- Cutler, Charles L. (2002) Tracks that speak: the legacy of Native American words in North American culture, page 176. ISBN 0-618-06510-5
- Staff (2009) "Bearberry" Discovering Lewis and Clark The Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation