Shrub, spreading by runners 1 - 3 m tall Leaves: opposite, dark green above, covered with a whitish waxy coating beneath (glaucous), 5 - 12 cm long, 2.5 - 6.3 cm wide, egg-shaped with arching (arcuate) veins, non-toothed. Fall color is purple to red. Flowers: borne in flat-topped to slightly round-topped clusters 3 - 6 cm wide, each flower with four thin, white petals. Fruit: fleshy with a center seed (drupe), white, spherical. Bark: red, sometimes green to gray, smooth with raised, corky spots (lenticels). Twigs: red to purplish red with color intensifying in winter, slightly hairy when young. Buds: 3 - 6 mm long, egg-shaped with a long pointed tip, scales (two) meet but do not overlap (valvate). Flower buds are terminal and larger than vegetative buds.
Similar species: Several dogwood species are difficult to distinguish from each other. All of the following are shrubs with opposite leaves and arching leaf venation, but the twigs and fruit provide useful identification features. Cornus racemosa has tan to reddish brown twigs that become gray with age and round-topped to pyramidal clusters of white fruit on pinkish red stalks. Cornus obliqua has purple to yellowish red twigs covered in dense hairs and clusters of light blue fruit. Cornus rugosa has light yellow to green twigs that sometimes develop reddish purple patches, leaves that may be almost rounded, and clusters of light blue fruit.
Flowering: early May to June, sporadic throughout summer
Habitat and ecology: Open marshes, calcareous fens, bogs, shrubby wetlands, young and old dunes.
Occurence in the Chicago region: native
Notes: Cornus stolonifera is often selected as an ornamental shrub for its red twigs, which provide winter interest in the landscape.
Etymology: Cornus comes from the Latin word, cornu, meaning horn, referring to its hard wood. Stolonifera means "with stolons or runners," referring to its spreading habit.