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Quick facts

Common name: dogwood

Scientific name: Cornus sanguinea

Family: Cornaceae

Origin: native

Dogwood is a small broadleaf shrub, typically found growing along woodland edges and in hedgerows of southern England. 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.

Look out for: a stringy latex-type substance which can be seen if the leaves are pulled apart. The four-petalled flowers have a bad smell.

Identified in winter by: newer twigs which are bright red.

What does dogwood look like?

dogwood single leaf on white background

Credit: Nature Photographers Ltd / WTML

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.

dogwood blossom

Credit: Frank Teigler Hippocampus Bildarchiv / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

dogwood berries and leaves close-up

Credit: Blickwinkel / Alamy Stock Photo

Fruits

After pollination by insects, the flowers develop into small black berries – sometimes called 'dogberries'.

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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. In the UK it can be seen growing wild along woodland edges and hedgerows. It is also a popular ornamental plant and is used in gardens to provide autumn and winter colour.

robin perched in dogwood tree

Credit: Nigel Bean / naturepl.com

Value to wildlife

The leaves are eaten by the caterpillars of some moths, including the case-bearer moth, while the flowers are visited by insects and the berries are eaten by many mammals and birds.

Did you know?

In the sun the twigs are coloured crimson, but lime green in the shade.

Mythology and symbolism

The wood of the dogwood tree is one of the hardest and it is said that it was chosen to make the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified.

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'.

horse chestnut tree bark

Credit: Tim Gainey / Alamy Stock Photo

Uses of dogwood

The bark of all Cornus species are rich in tannins and have been used in traditional medicine as a substitute for quinine - a drug that’s used to treat malaria and babesiosis. A drink similar to tea can be made from the bark to treat pain and fevers, while the leaves can be made into a poultice to cover wounds.

Threats and conservation

Dogwood 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.