by Sandy Garland
I remember when this Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera) shrub was just a tiny thing at the edge of the path. It sent out roots – one of them sticking out so that we’d trip over it every now and then. We almost dug it out, but eventually it got so big we just walked around it and the roots were no longer a problem. Now it’s more than 3 metres across and teeming with life.
Red Osier Dogwoods are great if you like wildlife. The flat flower clusters attract butterflies and other pollinators, and in late summer and fall, birds come to eat the berries. According to our Planting the urban landscape: Selected trees and shrubs for birds, “Ninety species of birds have been recorded using C. stolonifera as a food source.” Some are Eastern Kingbird, Red-eyed and Warbling Vireos, Hermit and Wood Thrushes, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, Northern Cardinal, and Evening and Pine Grosbeaks.
Illinois Wildflowers says, “The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract many kinds of insects, including long-tongued bees, short-tongued bees, wasps, flies, and butterflies…. Other insects feed on the leaves, suck plant juices, or bore through the wood. These species include the caterpillars of many moths, long-horned beetles (Cerambycidae), leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae), aphids (Aphididae), plant bugs (Miridae), and others.
“Because of their higher than average fat content, the white drupes of Red-Osier Dogwood are an important food source of wood ducks, songbirds, and upland gamebirds. The White-Footed Mouse and other small rodents also eat the drupes. The White-Tailed Deer and Cottontail Rabbit browse on the leaves and woody stems; beavers also use the stems as a food source and as construction material for their dams and lodges. To a minor extent, the fallen leaves are eaten by some turtles, including Chelydra serpentina (Snapping Turtle).”
As I looked closely at our large dogwood, I could see many rolled leaves, where an insect had wrapped itself for protection. Under one leaf, a delicate white web held a more dense cocoon of some kind in its centre (left).
This colourful caterpillar (right), the larva of a Notodontid moth, feeds on dogwood. And the Calligrapher Beetle further below makes a meal of the leaves.
Although I didn’t see any spittlebugs, the shrub was covered with white globs of foam, betraying their presence.
At the FWG, Song Sparrows have nested in our dogwoods and we’ve seen Gray Catbirds carrying the white berries to their nestlings.
In fall, the leaves fall off dogwoods early, leaving bright red branches. The field to the north of our Old Woodlot looks like it’s on fire on sunny days when the red dogwood stems glow against golden aspen leaves.
Even in winter, the red of the osiers brightens dull days.