Monday, November 7, 2011

Dogwoods -- © Dave Spier

Gray (Red-panicled) Dogwood berries in the rain - © Dave Spier

Gray Dogwood, an upland shrub named for the gray bark on trunks and main branches, produces white berries prized by songbirds. It is also called Red-panicled Dogwood (Cornus racemosa) because the berry clusters grow on red stems (panicles). By now the simple, opposite leaves have fallen but this makes the fruits more obvious to chickadees and other birds that seem to enjoy them and unintentionally disburse the seeds.

Gray Dogwood colonizes old fields and spreads by underground runners. The result is a dome-shaped thicket with older, taller shrubs up to 10 feet high in the center. New twigs are brown, and the center of branchlets have light brown pith.

Its close cousin, Red-osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera = C. alba) will do the same in wet meadows. It also has white berries prized by songbirds and Ruffed Grouse. The red twigs are eaten by deer and cottontails. If you cut across one of the bright red (sometimes green) twigs with a sharp knife, you'll notice the center is filled with white pith.

Most dogwoods have branchlets with opposite twigs and leaves similar to maples and viburnums. The exception is Alternate-leaf Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia), also called Pagoda Dogwood because of its growth form with whorls of leaves at the end of green twigs.

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