Dogwood, Flowering

Name:  Flowering Dogwood

Botanical Name: Cornus florida

Form: small tree

Parts Used: berries, browse


Citation: Guenther, K. (2017, January 12) Flowering dogwood as wildlife food [Web log post.] Retrieved: readers supply the date, from

Flowering Dogwood drupes.

Getting Started

This tree’s fruit ranks #3 on the Favorite Fruits List of valuable wild fruits for our fauna. Thirty different animals eat these berries and thirteen species of birds use dogwood berries in especially high quantities when available. That’s a valuable food, and one that is easy for beginners to identify and collect!

It’s no slouch as a browse favorite either, ranking #13 on the Best Browse List.

Dogwoods are well-known trees. Flowering dogwood is Virginia’s state tree. Some dogwood species are shrubby in form, meaning they have multiple trunks. Interesting aside, the Tupelo (or Gum) genus (Nyssa), falls under the larger Dogwood family umbrella and is another good wildlife food.

Dogwood’s bright red berries are relatively easy to reach and the tree is easy to identify and common in many folks’ yards.

Cornaceae ( Dogwood family)

     Cornus (Dogwood genus)

Common name Virginia Cornus Species Origin Rare Plant Status
alternateleaf dogwood C. alternifolia native rare in some states (not Virginia)
silky dogwood C. amomum native rare in some states (not Virginia)
bunchberry dogwood C. canadensis native Globally secure but critically imperiled in Virginia
flowering dogwood C. florida native rare in some states (not Virginia)
Asian or kousa dogwood C. kousa non-native not rare
silky dogwood C. obliqua native Globally secure but critically imperiled in Virginia
gray dogwood C. racemosa native not rare
roundleaf dogwood C. rugosa native Globally secure but critically imperiled in Virginia
redosier dogwood C. stolonifera Michaux native not rare
stiff dogwood C. stricta native not rare
Distribution of <i>Cornus florida</i> L.
Range map: USDA, NRCS. (2015). The PLANTS Database, National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA. Retrieved on a variety of dates from 2015-2017 from

Key Features to Look For

In addition to the identification guide of your choice, here are a couple of features you should see on this tree:

  • Opposite leaves and branches, uplifting branches, leaves hang vertically downwards
  • Red, shiny, oval berries feel a little waxy, in compact clusters
  • “Alligator bark” on older trees
  • Understory size tree, 20-30 feet tall
  • Large white “flowers” with a notch “bite” out of the center end of each “petal”

A few words about the bark. On an older dogwood, the bark breaks up into blocks, often described  as “alligator bark.” Some other species of trees have this as well, notably persimmon and black gum. But, bark patterns can help be an identifier.


None indicated for animals.

About this Species

This popular small understory tree can be found growing naturally in forests and woods, and is planted intentionally in many parks and yards. It is easy to identify and easy to collect fruit from. Unfortunately, it is suffering from Dogwood Anthracnose Fungus, a new fungal disease that especially affects trees in moist or shady conditions.

Flower Description: The inflorescence—what seems to be the “flower”— is large (about 2+ inches diameter (6-7 cm) white and showy, but the four white flower “petals” are actually modified leaves called bracts. On the tips of these white to pinkish bracts, it looks like something took a small bite out of the bract. The actual greenish-yellow flowers are in the center of the these bracts and each of the flower ovules will in fall turn into a red berry grouped in a bunch— hence another name for a related tree— bunchberry. Most accurately, bunchberry refers only to the species C. Canadensis.

Leaf Description:  My mental search image for a dogwood leaf is that the leaf color is a mixture of green and maroon colors much of the growing season. The leaves appear to fold upwards slightly along the center axis of the leaf and the veins curve to run parallel to the leaf edges. Dogwoods are one of the relatively few trees with opposite leaves along the stem (except C. alternafolia which has alternate branching structure indicated right in its name!). The leaves are often wavy along the edges, but not lobed or serrated.


Turning this russet maroon color in fall, tone can still see the typical curling inward leaf and the opposite branching of the leaves.
A different Dogwood species–Alternate Leaf Dogwood– differs as the leaves clearly are alternately placed along the branch instead of directly opposite each other. Otherwise, the curling inward and parallel veins are typical dogwood.

Fruit Size: The dogwood fruit (a drupe) is an oval shiny red fruit that feels waxy on the outside.  Up to  6-7 of these drupes form together from the mature flower ovaries. They ripen in October and form a bunch at what used to be the center of the spring bloom.

The drupe is about 7/16 inch (1 cm) long. The pulp inside is a golden color. The single seed is pinkish-yellow with faint lines running lengthwise in the seed.

At other times of year, you can see next year’s flower bud forming, the recognizable “turbans” of the dogwood bud.

A turban-shaped bud, visible in fall into winter.
Fall color.


Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
winter winter late winter early spring spring late spring early summer summer late summer early fall fall late fall
fruit x x x x
browse x x x x x x x x x x x

Does this lend itself to being a good enrichment item?   Maybe. If you already have a reason to trim back a dogwood’s branches at the time the drupes are on the tree, the branches or twigs with leaves and fruits can be installed in an enclosure taking care not to knock the fruit off while handling the limb. But dogwood trees or shrubs are small and cannot take frequent limb harvesting. Late fall is the best time to prune a dogwood.

Harvesting Fruit

Mature drupes (berries) turn shiny bright red, and you can easily hand pick off the tree. Ripe fruit should pull off with ease and the seed can be squeezed out using your fingers. If you find the drupe stays firm on the tree or is so hard that you have to cut the seed out, then the fruit is not ripe. All the fruit usually ripens pretty much at the same time and can persist on the tree up to two months.

How to Store Prepared Fruit: Commercial berry containers are great for storing fruit because the rigid plastic keeps fruit from getting crushed and they also have small holes in them which control the humidity in the container. This slows the fruit from drying out too quickly, but allows air circulation to reduce molding.

Dogwood berries keep well in re-used commercial berry containers in the refrigerator for one to two weeks.

It is ideal to use this fruit fresh, so if at all possible, use them fresh. Frozen fruits just come out dark and mushy, but if you really need to freeze them you can, knowing that the texture will be greatly compromised upon thawing. Nutrients will be preserved. Spread berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place in freezer for 1 day. Once frozen, repackage them into zipping freezer baggies (3 mils or thicker) or glass jars to keep them from drying out, remove as much air as possible from the baggie, label and store in freezer until needed—no more than 1 year. Avoid freezing, thawing and refreezing as might happen in a door of a freezer.

See more detailed instructions under the tab Storing Fruit.

Harvesting Browse

Dogwood is one of the favorite browse cuttings for deer.

Browse as a term used on this website refers to the twigs and small branches, with or without leaves or needles, of trees, shrubs, vines and other woody stemmed plants.  Browse can also refer to bark, for the animals that gnaw on bark.

Small trees cannot tolerate very much cutting and survive. The best time to harvest browse for the health of the tree is late fall to winter, but that may not be when you need the browse. The best limbs to remove are ones that rub together and cause abrasions that can make the tree vulnerable to insect damage. Or, cut branches that are overcrowded or hang low to the ground. Prune branches back to the base where the branch meets the trunk to minimize future insect damage to the tree.

Dip pruning shears into a bleach water solution (1:3) to minimize transferring tree diseases from one tree to the next.

Place the cut end of the browse in a bucket of water as soon as possible after cutting- ideally taking a bucket of what with you as you harvest because the branch will start to close itself off the instant it is injured. Then keep them in water as much as possible prior to feeding, which ideally means even during transport. And keep cut browse in the shade.

Browse cuttings are best fed to animals right away, they do not store well for more than a day before the leaves start to wilt and dry out, especially if it is hot. Read more, at Cutting Browse.

Other Dogwood Species: Kousa or Asian Dogwood (C. kousa) is a common non-native ornamental dogwood planted by landscapers. Its tree form and leaf is easily recognizable as a dogwood species, but the berry is totally different from flowering dogwood. The berries are the size of a bing cherry and look to me like pink soccer balls. They ripen in September and October. Ripe fruit falls from the tree and can be collected off the ground while plump and pink. They are known to be eaten by squirrels and crows.

Kousa Dogwood fruit can be harvested in early September in Virginia.

 Rare Species in Virginia

Do you live in one of these Virginia counties? If so, be aware that there are some species near you that may be threatened or endangered. Do more research to make sure you are identifying your target species correctly and not harvesting a threatened species!

County in Virginia Species
Albemarle bunchberry dogwood
Augusta roundleaf dogwood
Bath bunchberry dogwood
Botetourt silky dogwood
Craig roundleaf dogwood
Fairfax silky dogwood
Frederick silky dogwood
Highland bunchberry dogwood
Highland roundleaf dogwood
Giles roundleaf dogwood
Loudon silky dogwood
Madison roundleaf dogwood
Page roundleaf dogwood
Rappahannock roundleaf dogwood
Rockingham bunchberry dogwood
Rockbridge roundleaf dogwood
Scott silky dogwood
Shenandoah roundleaf dogwood

Feed Dogwood to:


(Cornus spp.)


Deer, White-tailed

Odocoileus virginianus

strong preference

Beaver, American

Castor canadensis

Chipmunk, Eastern

Tamias striatus

Cottontail, Eastern

Sylvilagus floridanus

Elk, Rocky Mountain

Cervus elaphus

Hare, Snowshoe

Lepus americanus


Alces americanus

Raccoon, Northern

Procyon lotor

Skunk, Striped

Mephitis mephitis

Squirrel, Eastern Fox

Sciurus niger

Squirrel, Eastern Gray

Sciurus carolinensis


(Cornus spp.)


Bear, American Black

Ursus americanus

Beaver, American

Castor canadensis

Chipmunk, Eastern

Tamias striatus

Cottontail, Eastern

Sylvilagus floridanus

Deer, White-tailed

Odocoileus virginianus

Fox, Eastern Gray

Urocyon cinereoargenteus

Hare, Snowshoe

Lepus americanus

Mouse, Common White-footed

Peromyscus leucopus

Raccoon, Northern

Procyon lotor

Skunk, Spotted

Spilogale putorius

Skunk, Striped

Mephitis mephitis

Squirrel, Eastern Fox

Sciurus niger

Squirrel, Eastern Gray

Sciurus carolinensis


various spp.

Vole, Red-backed

Myodes spp., Clethrionomys spp.

Woodrat, Allegheny

Neotoma magister

Bluebird, Eastern

Sialia sialis

strong preference

Cardinal, Northern

Cardinalis cardinalis

strong preference

Flicker, Northern

Colaptes auratus

strong preference

Grosbeak, Evening

Coccothraustes vespertinus

strong preference

Kingbird, Eastern

Tyrannus tyrannus

strong preference

Robin, American

Turdus migratorius

strong preference

Thrush, Gray-cheeked

Catharus minimus

strong preference

Thrush, Hermit

Catharus guttatus

strong preference

Thrush, Swainson's

Catharus ustulatus

strong preference

Thrush, Wood

Hylocichla mustelina

strong preference

Vireo, Red-eyed

Vireo olivaceus

strong preference

Waxwing, Cedar

Bombycilla cedrorum

strong preference

Woodpecker, Downy

Picoides pubescens

strong preference

Blackbird, Rusty

Euphagus carolinus

Catbird, Gray

Demetella carolinensis

Chat, Yellow-bellied

Icteria virens

Crow, American

Corvus brachyrhynchos

Finch, Purple

Carpodacus purpureus

Flycatcher, Alder

Empidonax alnorum

Flycatcher, Great-crested

Myiarchus crinitus

Flycatcher, Willow

Empidonax traillii

Grackle, Common

Quiscalus quiscula

Grosbeak, Blue

Guiraca caerulea

Grosbeak, Rose-breasted

Pheucticus ludovicianus

Junco, Dark-eyed

Junco hyemalis

Kinglet, Ruby-crowned

Regulus calendula

Longspur, Lapland

Calcarius lapponicus

Mockingbird, Northern

Mimus polyglottos

Oriole, Eastern

Icterus galbula

Sapsucker, Yellow-bellied

Sphyrapicus varius

Sparrow, House

Passer domesticus

Sparrow, Song

Melospiza melodia

Sparrow, White-throated

Zonotrichia albicollis

Starling, European

Sturnus vulgaris

Swallow, Barn

Hirundo rustica

Swallow, Tree

Tachycineta bicolor

Tanager, Summer

Piranga rubra

Thrasher, Brown

Toxostoma rufum

Thrush, Bicknell's

Catharus bicknelli

Titmouse, Tufted

Baeolophus bicolor

Towhee, Eastern

Pipilo erythrophthalmus


Catharus fuscescens

Vireo, Blue-headed

Vireo solitarius

Vireo, Philadelphia

Vireo philadelphicus

Vireo, Warbling

Vireo gilvus

Vireo, White-eyed

Vireo griseus

Warbler, Pine

Dendroica pinus

Warbler, Yellow-rumped

Dendroica coronata

Wood-Pewee, Eastern

Contopus virens

Woodpecker, Hairy

Picoides villosus

Woodpecker, Pileated

Dryocopus pileatus

Woodpecker, Red-bellied

Melanerpes carolinus

Woodpecker, Red-headed

Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Bobwhite, Northern

Colinus virginianus

Duck, Wood

Aix sponsa

Grouse, Ruffed

Bonasa umbellus

Grouse, Sharp-tailed

Tympanuchus phasianellus

Pheasant, Ring-necked

Phasianus colchicus

Turkey, Wild

Meleagris gallopavo

Book References

Elpel, T.J. (2013) Botany in a Day (APG). Pony, Montana: Hops Press, LLC.

Martin, A.C., Zim, H.S., Nelson, A.L. (1951). American Wildlife and Plants: A Guide to Wildlife Food Habits. New York: Dover Publications.

Scott, M. (2013). Songbird Diet Index. National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association, St. Cloud, MN.

Townsend, J. F. (2015, April) Rare Plants Natural Heritage Technical Report 15-10. (Unpublished Report) Richmond, Virginia: Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage.

Virginia Department of Forestry (2010). Common Native Trees of Virginia: Tree Identification Guide

Online References

Coladonato, Milo. 1994. Cornus alternifolia. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [2016, December 5].

Coladonato, Milo. 1993. Cornus racemosa. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [2016, December 5].

Gucker, Corey. 2012. Cornus sericea. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer).
Available: [2016, December 5].

Tirmenstein, D. A. 1991. Cornus florida. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [December 5]

USDA, NRCS. 2015. The PLANTS Database (, 24 November 2015). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

Virginia Botanical Associates. (Accessed November 2015). Digital Atlas of the Virginia Flora ( c/o Virginia Botanical Associates, Blacksburg.