Cornus racemosa Lam, gray dogwood, is a thickly branched, slow growing dogwood seldom more than 6 feet high at maturity. Its flowers, which bloom in June or July, are white and loosely clustered, and its white fruit, which appears in September and October, is set off by bright red fruit-stalks. Its leaves are opposite, taper-pointed and oval.
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Global Range: Cornus racemosa is native to North America and occurs in dry to moist open sites from central Maine to southern Ontario and Minnesota, south to Delaware, Maryland and Virginia and west to Kentucky, Missouri, and Oklahoma (Fernald 1950). Wilson (1965) lists C. racemosa as a subspecies of C. foemina; C. foemina subsp. racemosa occurring in the northeast U.S. from Maine to Minnesota, south to Missouri and east to Virginia, C. foemina subsp. foemina occurring in the southeast from S. Carolina to Florida west to Arkansas and eastern Texas (Wilson 1965).
Occurrence in North America
MI MN MO NE NH NJ NY NC ND OH
OK PA RI SC SD TN VT VA WV WI
MB ON PQ
through New England and Pennyslvania; and west to Ohio, Indiana,
Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota. Its southern range
is from the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia to northern Arkansas.
Disjunct populations also occur in North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky,
North and South Dakota, and Nebraska [2,10,17,30].
Gray dogwood has a range of adaptability equaled by few other shrubs, and it tolerates many climatic conditions. Tolerance to shade is considered intermediate. It is not well adapted to coastal plain conditions.
Gray dogwood is distributed throughout the northeastern United States. For a current distribution map, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Website.
Gray dogwood is a native, deciduous, rhizomatous shrub, usually from 4
to 10 feet (1.2-3.0 m) high. It sometimes becomes a small tree up to 27
feet (8 m) high . It has ascending stems and branches that often
form impenetrable dome-shaped clusters or thickets . The leaves are
2.5 to 4.0 inches (6.0-10 cm) long, and the flowers are borne in open,
irregular cymes. The individual fruits enclose a single stone and occur
in clusters [2,6,14].
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Comments: Gray dogwood occurs in thickets and moist soil in riparian zones, roadsides, on sandy slopes and limestone ridges (Soper and Heimburger 1982).
Key Plant Community Associations
Gray dogwood is one of the dominant shrubs in the oak-hickory
(Quercus-Carya) forests of the northeastern United States. Common
codominants include maple-leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) and
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). Other common associates
of gray dogwood include American hazel (Corylus americana), beaked
hazelnut (C. cornuta), chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), smooth sumac
(Rhus glabra), and red raspberry (Rubus idaeus) [3,23,26].
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
K093 Great Lakes spruce - fir forest
K095 Great Lakes pine forest
K096 Northeastern spruce - fir forest
K099 Maple - basswood forest
K100 Oak - hickory forest
K102 Beech - maple forest
K101 Elm - ash forest
K103 Mixed mesophytic forest
K104 Appalachian oak forest
K106 Northern hardwoods
K108 Northern hardwoods - spruce forest
K110 Northeastern oak - pine forest
in meadows, open woodlands, riparian zones, along roadsides, and forest
margins. It grows best on rich, moist, well-drained soils, but will
also grow on mineral-rich limestone bedrock and rock outcroppings. In
Appalachian oak-hickory forests, it usually occurs on open ridgetops and
south- and west-facing slopes [1,10,16].
This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):
FRES10 White - red - jack pine
FRES11 Spruce - fir
FRES15 Oak - hickory
FRES17 Elm - ash - cottonwood
FRES18 Maple - beech - birch
FRES19 Aspen - birch
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
17 Pin cherry
19 Gray birch - red maple
20 White pine - northern red oak - red maple
21 Eastern white pine
22 White pine - hemlock
23 Eastern hemlock
24 Hemlock - yellow birch
25 Sugar maple - beech - yellow birch
26 Sugar maple - basswood
27 Sugar maple
28 Black cherry - maple
30 Red spruce - yellow birch
31 Red spruce - sugar maple - beech
32 Red spruce
33 Red spruce - balsam fir
34 Red spruce - Fraser fir
35 Paper birch - red spruce - balsam fir
37 Northern white-cedar
39 Black ash - American elm - red maple
42 Bur oak
43 Bear oak
44 Chestnut oak
52 White oak - black oak - northern red oak
53 White oak
55 Northern red oak
58 Yellow-poplar - eastern hemlock
59 Yellow-poplar - white oak - northern red oak
60 Beech - sugar maple
62 Silver maple - American elm
64 Sassafras - persimmon
107 White spruce
108 Red maple
110 Black oak
Only seedlings of gray dogwood are practical. All should be planted as early in the spring as possible. When using dogwood for streambank planting, eroded or steep banks should be graded before planting. Plant in the early spring with dormant planting stock. Planting after May will severely reduce chances for success. One-year rooted cuttings or seedlings can be planted vertically into the bank with one or two inches of cutting wood protruding. They should be stuck in a hole large enough to accommodate the root system when well spread. The soil must be tamped well around the roots. Fresh, unrooted hardwood cuttings, easier to handle but less reliable, should be stuck vertically into the bank, leaving one to two inches above ground. A dibble can be used to make a hole. Tamp adequately to provide complete contact between the cutting and the soil. Cuttings may also be buried horizontally two inches deep in damp soil, if the ground is stony. Fresh hardwood cuttings, 3/8 to 1/2 inch at the thick end, 9 inches long, and made while dormant, are ideal. Without cold storage, planting should be done as soon as possible after cutting. Plant both rooted cuttings and unrooted hardwood cuttings on 2 feet spacing in a diamond pattern.
When using for wildlife or screening purposes, the planting site should be cultivated to destroy existing vegetation. If not, the sod should be removed from an area two feet across for each plant. The holes should be deep enough to allow for the full extension of the roots. Spacing for hedges and screens should be staggered and 2 x 2 feet, and 4 to 5 feet for windbreaks. A small handful of fertilizer can be placed around each plant.
Flower-Visiting Insects of Gray Dogwood in Illinois
(Bees suck nectar or collect pollen, other insects suck nectar; most observations are from Robertson, otherwise they are from Krombein et al. and Lisberg & Young as indicated below)
Apidae (Apinae): Apis mellifera sn cp fq; Apidae (Bombini): Bombus auricomus cp, Bombus pensylvanica cp; Anthophoridae (Ceratinini): Ceratina dupla dupla sn cp; Anthophoridae (Eucerini): Synhalonia speciosa sn cp; Anthophoridae (Nomadini): Nomada affabilis sn, Nomada superba superba sn
Halictidae (Halictinae): Agapostemon sericea sn cp, Agapostemon virescens sn cp, Augochlorella aurata sn, Augochlorella striata sn cp, Lasioglossum imitatus sn cp, Lasioglossum pectoralis sn cp, Lasioglossum pilosus pilosus sn, Lasioglossum tegularis fq, Lasioglossum versatus sn cp fq; Colletidae (Hylaeinae): Hylaeus affinis sn, Hylaeus floridanus sn, Hylaeus mesillae sn, Hylaeus modestus modestus sn, Prosopis crataegi sn (Robertson, MS); Andrenidae (Andreninae): Andrena carlini sn, Andrena commoda sn, Andrena cressonii sn cp, Andrena forbesii sn, Andrena fragilis cp olg (Kr), Andrena hippotes sn, Andrena imitatrix imitatrix sn cp fq, Andrena nigrifrons sn cp fq, Andrena paniculatae sn cp, Andrena rugosa sn cp, Andrena sayi sn cp
Sphecidae (Crabroninae): Lestica confluentus, Lindenius columbianus, Oxybelus emarginatus; Sphecidae (Sphecinae): Chalybion californicus, Sceliphron caementaria; Pompilidae: Ceropales fulvipes; Vespidae (Eumeninae): Ancistrocerus campestris, Ancistrocerus unifasciatus, Eumenes fraterna, Euodynerus foraminatus, Leionotus ziziae (Rb, MS), Monobia quadridens; Chalcididae: Conura torvina
Syrphidae: Eristalinus aeneus, Eristalis dimidiatus, Eristalis transversus, Eupeodes americanus, Mallota bautias, Orthonevra nitida, Trichopsomyia banksi, Tropidia mamillata; Empididae: Empis clausa, Empis distans, Empis levicula; Conopidae: Thecophora occidensis; Tachinidae: Archytas analis fq, Archytas aterrima, Belvosia bifasciata, Belvosia unifasciata, Chetogena claripennis fq, Lespesia frenchii, Paradidyma singularis, Phasia purpurascens, Spallanzania hesperidarum; Sarcophagidae: Helicobia rapax, Sarcophaga bullata; Calliphoridae: Lucilia illustris, Lucilia sericata; Muscidae: Graphomya americana, Morellia micans; Anthomyiidae: Calythea pratincola; Fanniidae: Fannia manicata; Otitidae: Delphinia picta
Nymphalidae: Vanessa atalanta; Papilionidae: Papilio marcellus
Cantharidae: Podabrus tomentosus fq, Rhagonycha dichrous fq; Cerambycidae: Strangalia famelica; Mordellidae: Mordella marginata fq (Rb, LY), Mordellistena cervicalis (LY), Mordellistena incommunis (LY), Mordellistena ornata (LY); Scarabeidae: Euphoria fulgida, Trichiotinus affinis icp, Trichiotinus piger fq; Scraptiidae: Pentaria trifasciatus
Populations: Dogwood invasion of grasslands from swales, ravines, and woodland edges of floodplains is accelerated by vegetative reproduction and tolerance to wind, full exposure or partial shade, and dry soils (Pound and Clements 1900, Costello 1931, Steyermark 1940, Albertson and Weaver 1945, Weaver 1965, Duxbury 1982).
As density within a dogwood thicket increases, groundcover vegetation decreases and may become entirely absent (Aikman 1928, Weaver 1965). Annual weeds sometimes grow beneath dogwood (Duxbury 1982, Nyboer pers. comm. 1983), and bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) may invade dogwood thickets (Albertson and Weaver 1945, Aikman 1928). Dogwood may persist and sometimes dominate the understory of woods (Duxbury 1982).
Plant Response to Fire
Percent cover of native shrubs, including gray dogwood, decreased
following fire in a bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) savanna in east-central
In a study of postfire plant response in four plant communities in
central New York, gray dogwood frequency on 17 burned plots averaged 62
percent at postfire year 1. Frequency on unburned plots was 62 percent .
The Research Paper by Bowles and others 2007 provides information on
postfire responses of several plant species, including gray dogwood,
that was not available when this species review was originally written.
Immediate Effect of Fire
underground rhizomes probably survive all but severe fires that remove
duff and heat the upper soil for extended periods of time.
Rhizomatous shrub, rhizome in soil
Ground residual colonizer (on-site, initial community)
Initial-offsite colonizer (off-site, initial community)
the literature. It probably survives fire by sprouting from rhizomes.
It also produces an abundance of soil-stored seed , which may
germinate after fire.
producing seed at about 4 to 5 years of age and produces an abundant
amount of seed every year. Gray dogwood reproduces vegetatively by
sprouting from underground rhizomes [22,29].
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
Facultative Seral Species
Gray dogwood is an early to mid-seral species [12,20]. It is most
common in understories of mixed, open forests and grows best in moderate
to full sunlight . In southwestern Wisconsin, aboveground growth
rates of gray dogwood were greater in open habitats than in forest
Life History and Behavior
Gray dogwood flowers from May through July, with fruits maturing from
August through October [4,14]. Leaves emerge in early April and abscise
in late October .
Sexual reproduction: These dogwoods probably reach sexual maturity in three to four years. There is one viable seed per drupe in all four species (Stephens 1973). A complex of hybrids exists between C. drummondii, C. racemosa (C. foemina subsp. racemosa) and C. foemina (subsp. foemina). The hybrids have high pollen viability, robust growth, and fruit sometimes larger and more plentiful than that of the parent (Wilson 1965).
Seed dispersal: Seeds are dispersed by a variety of birds, including crows, vireos, redheaded woodpeckers and bluebirds (Ridley 1930), autumn through winter (Stephens 1973). Availability of perching sites may be important in dispersal. Smith (1975) included C. racemosa in his study of re-vegetation of forest openings, and found that most seeds were deposited by birds within 25 meters of the seed source, often in the shade near perching sites. About 25% of the dispersed seeds left the study area after consumption by long-distance flying birds.
Germination: Germination usually occurs in the spring following seed production and dispersal to a favorable site, but may be delayed a year due to a dormant embryo, hard pericarp (Brinkman 1974), and possible chemical inhibition by the pulp (Goodwin 1948). Mechanical and chemical scarification and stratification techniques are used commercially to stimulate germination in dogwood (Brinkman 1974). C. racemosa and C. stolonifera are described by Krefting and Roe (1949) as having "double dormancy", or requiring two periods of stratification for germination. C. stolonifera seeds that were treated first with acids then with cold stratification experienced almost 100% germination, whereas germination was much lower for those seeds receiving cold treatment only. However, seeds of both species that were twice stratified by passage through quail or pheasant gut plus cold treatment also gave relatively low percent germination. The authors suggested that this was due to a large amount of variability in the extent of scarification from the bird gizzards. Some seeds are injured or overstratified in the bird gut and some are left unscathed or understratified (Krefting and Roe 1949). Smith (1975) described C. racemosa as fruiting abundantly but having very low germinability, depending instead on vegetative reproduction to enhance its propagation. Germination tests of scarified and stratified C. drummondii seeds have shown a 25% germination in three samples after 50 days (Brinkman 1974).
Seedling establishment: Some Cornus spp. shrub seedlings are tolerant of variable light intensities, and may become established in woodland edges, within woods, or in open areas (Gatherum et al. 1963, Smith 1975). Seedlings may invade grasslands alone or with other woody plants (McClain pers. comm.).
Asexual reproduction: C. drummondii, C. racemosa, C. stolonifera and C. obliqua reproduce most successfully by vegetative growth following seedling establishment. Thickets may expand by adventitious underground shoot growth or rhizomatous growth (Stephens 1973, Wilson 1965, Smith 1975).
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Cornus racemosa
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Cornus racemosa
Public Records: 8
Specimens with Barcodes: 10
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked
Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status (e.g. threatened or endangered species, state noxious status, and wetland indicator values).
Comments: Cornus spp. are natural early successional components of many woodland ecosystems in North America. They have many adaptions that enable them to take advantage of open areas, including a large number of seeds, vigorous seedlings and rapid subsequent growth, dispersal by birds, and high tolerance to adverse conditions such as drought and shade (Smith 1975, citing Auclair and Cottam 1971). Rapid and extensive cloning by rhizomatous growth allows dogwood species to create dense thickets which crowd out desired grasses, sedges and forbs, and alter wildlife habitat. Invasion of dogwood, along with other woody species, into prairies and wetlands became more extensive mainly due to the post-settlement decline in wildfires.
Woody plant invasion of floodplains is a concern in some areas, particularly in the western U.S., where stream diversion has greatly reduced the flow in rivers. Water diversion can reduce river flow to the extent that dogwoods and other woody plants invade the floodplain, reducing river channel width and drastically altering wildlife habitat. For example, woody plant invasion, including C. drummondii, willows (Salix spp.), green ash (Fraxinus pensylvanica) and black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), has reduced channel area of the Platte River in Nebraska by 50-85%, resulting in a loss of up to 97% of the roosting habitat for sandhill and whooping cranes and many other migratory birds (Currier 1987).
Pests and potential problems
There are currently no serious pests of gray dogwood.
Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)
No cultivars are available at this time, however common seedlings are available at most commercial hardwood nurseries.
Dogwoods used on streambanks are subject to mechanical damage. The site should be inspected annually for needed repairs in the spring after heavy runoff or ice floes. Fill in gaps by replanting or by laying down and covering branches of nearby plants. Any mechanical measures used to control the bank, such as riprap, must be kept in repair to maintain effective protection.
Competing vegetation should be controlled around all dogwood plants used for hedges, screens, etc. This is particularly important during the first few years after planting.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
In Missouri, Ohio, and Illinois, gray dogwood is one of the most
important forage plants for white-tailed deer [5,19,24]. The seeds and
buds are a favorite food for ring-necked pheasant and northern bobwhite
in southern Michigan .
Gray dogwood thickets provide cover for a variety of birds and mammals
Other uses and values
showy flowers, fruits, and attractive fall coloring .
Value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites
easily established by direct seedling and grows rapidly [11,29]. It has
been successfully planted for revegetating highway corridors in Wisconsin
and coal mine spoils in the eastern United States [11,28,29].
Gray dogwood is useful as a low-growing wild hedge which provides summer food and some cover for small animals and birds.
Cornus racemosa (northern swamp dogwood, gray dogwood or panicle dogwood) is a shrubby plant native to southeastern Canada and the northeastern United States. It is a member of the dogwood genus Cornus and the family Cornaceae.
Plants can produce many stems and suckers, with older stems, which can reach 5 metres (16 ft) in height, having distinctive gray bark. The plant grows upright with a rounded habit and oppositely arranged leaves and terminally born flowers. The white flowers are small, with four petals, and clustered together in rounded, 2-inch-wide (51 mm) clusters called cymose panicles, produced in May and early June. After flowering, green fruits are produced that turn white in late summer. The white fruits, or drupes, are attached to the plant by bright red pedicels. Many species of birds feed on the fruits. Old branches grow slowly, while new stems are fast growing. In the fall the foliage can take on a reddish or purplish color, though it is not overly showy from a distance.
A synonymous name for the species is Swida racemosa.
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Sometimes included in Cornus foemina as C. foemina ssp. racemosa; Kartesz (1994 checklist and 1999 floristic synthesis) treats as a distinct species, as do many authors.
racemosa Lam. . Some authorities consider C. racemosa a subspecies
of Cornus foemina [8,10]. Little , however, considers it a distinct
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