Contributed by Thom Mrazik, Morris Arboretum Volunteer and Penn State Master Gardener

photo of cornus sericea "Cardinal"
Cornus sericea 'Cardinal' next to Pump House

Photo of red twig Cornus sp.
Drift of red twig Cornus sp. at end of Oak Allee

photo of Midwinter Fire (Cornus sanguinea)
Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire' near Oak Allee


Remember “Turn, Turn, Turn,” the song by Pete Seeger, with opening lyrics of “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose”? Plants are experts at knowing the seasons and the right time to show their best. For example, the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) consistently kicks off spring with showy petals. Meanwhile, the handsome kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) tree knows to catch our attention in fall with its scarlet leaves and red fruits.

Why wait months? Discover dogwood beauty right now at the Arboretum, and go hunting for dogwood shrubs, commonly referred to as red twig dogwood. These woody shrubs—Cornus alba, Cornus sericea, and Cornus sanguinea—are enjoyed in the landscape for their boldly colored red stems (or twigs), most apparent after they lose their leaves and especially when there is snow on the ground. Sometimes, the red mingles with orange and yellow colors on the same plant. When planted in groups, they fill a garden space with artful arrays of solidly colored, erect, and sometimes twisty, long lines.

Where can you find red twig dogwood at the Arboretum? Use the plant catalogue to find their approximate locations.

I found several displays of red twig dogwood in front of the main entrance gate to the Arboretum, even more were growing around the Pump House and near the stream. Along the wetland border, I observed drifts of reddish, densely stemmed shrubs, but the map noted them instead to be Salix (willow)—a topic for another time.

But, let's get back to dogwoods. I was pleased to find a large cluster of shrubs at the end of the Oak Allée, including nearby, a Cornus cultivar with gradations of red, orange, and yellow stems. Remember, in every season at the Arboretum, you’ll find the best of what dogwoods have to offer. Check out the plant catalogue and go exploring.