The Friends of the Wildflower Garden, Inc.

Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States

Gray Dogwood

Common Name
Gray Dogwood (Panicled Dogwood, Gray-bark Dogwood)


Scientific Name
Cornus racemosa Lam.


Plant Family
Dogwood (Cornaceae)

Garden Location
Upland & Woodland


Prime Season
Early Summer flowering



Gray Dogwood is a shrub, usually not over 6 feet high, forming a thicket. Stems are mostly smooth but with some wart-ish bumps, and gray except for the newer twigs which are reddish-brown and have pale lenticular lenticels.

Leaves are opposite, entire, stalked, ovate to lance shape and taper to a pointed tip, pale green on the underside. The lateral veins are evenly spaced and tend to curve to the leaf tip. Leaves turn to a deep reddish purple in Autumn contrasting with the whitish drupes and their red stalks.

The inflorescence is a branched cluster that is usually more elongated than round, sometimes with a convex top or a pyramidal shape, always at the end of stems, blooming in early summer.

The flowers are perfect, small, each about 1/4 inch wide, 4-part with pale white spreading lance-shaped petals. The calyx has 4 short teeth. There are 4 stamens with yellow anthers placed alternate with the petals,and one pistil with a single greenish-yellow style that has a blunt tip. The ovary is a deep yellow color.

Fruit: Fertile flowers produce a globular, ellipsoid shaped drupe, 4 to 8 mm in diameter, green initially but turning white in the fall. Each flower stalk, which was originally white like the flower, turns to a conspicuous red as the fruit form and matures, as do the branches of the panicle itself. Each drupe usually contains 1 hard stone seed, 3 to 6.5 mm, slightly pointed. Seed germination requires at least 60 days of cold stratification.


Habitat: In the Upland Garden it has been considered a plant that needs to be controlled by the periodic prairie burn. It is commonly found in Hennepin County. The plant itself will form thickets from the root's rhizomatous system via underground runners. Propagation can also be by seedlings planted before early summer. The plant will tolerate shade but does best in the open with sun and only in sun will you get the contrasting fall colors of leaves and fruit. Soil moisture should range from wet mesic to dry mesic.

Names: The genus, Cornus, is from the Latin cormu which refers to a 'horn'. Most references believe that name was applied as a reference to the density of the wood of this genus, which also includes the boxwoods. As to the common name, Dogwood is very dense and was once used for loom shuttles and spindles and in old English "Dagwood" referring to woods used in making daggers, skewers, and arrows. The Spindle Tree (Euonymus atropurpureus) is another such species which was referred to by some as “dogwood”. (Ref. #7).

Cornus is also the old Latin name for the cornelian cherry, Cornus mas. The species, racemosa, is applied to a plant having a raceme - that is a central stalk bearing a cluster of flowers each on its own stalk - as this plant has, but due to the branching it should be called a panicle. The author name for the plant classification, ‘Lam.’ is for Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) French naturalist and biologist, an early proponent of evolution who among other things, published the 3 volume Flore francaise. In earlier years this species was known as Cornus paniculata.

Comparisons: There are four Dogwoods in the Garden. All have similar looking flowers. An identification key with comparison link is presented below these photos.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Gray dogwood flower closeup Gray Dogwood flower cluster

Above: The flowers are borne on a short branched raceme, not a flat-topped cluster like the other dogwoods in the Garden.

Below: Typical leaf with stalk and pointed tip, no teeth and veins that curve toward the leaf tip. The underside of the leaf is pale green - almost whitish.

gray Dogwood leaf leaf underside

Below: Grayish bark color on mature twigs and stems. A young prior year twig in the spring showing characteristic reddish-brown color.

Gray dogwood Twig Gray dogwood twig

Below: 2nd photo - Green fruit of early August.

Gray DogwoodGray Dogwood Fruit

Below: Fruit of late September with the conspicuous red fruit stalks. Note the nice fall color of the leaves.

Gray Dogwood Gray Dogwood

Below: Each drupe contains (usually) a single hard seed - seen here in the green immature stage.


Below: Native dogwoods are rather leggy. 1st photo - An example of the native plant that is growing in partial shade, and (2nd photo) the nursery trade cultivar 'Muszam' which forms a more rounded compact landscape shrub than the native plant.

Gray dogwood plant Gray Dogwood 'Muszam'

Comparison of 4 Dogwoods at Eloise Butler

Dogwood Species C. racemosa C. obliqua C. alternifolia C. sericea
Common Name Gray Dogwood Pale Dogwood Pagoda Dogwood Red osier Dogwood
Alternate Names Panicled Dogwood Silky Dogwood Alternate-leaf Dogwood  
Height & Size to 6' forming a thicket 3 to 10' shrub to 30' small tree to 9' in thickets
Flowers All four dogwoods have small 4-part white flowers that are borne in branching clusters.
Flower cluster nearly as high as wide and NOT flat topped Flat-topped, flower stalks silky (hairy) Flat-topped, mostly at the ends of branches Flat-topped
Bloom period (typical - varies with season) mid- to late June late May to June Late May to mid-June Early May onwards.
Leaves Opposite, entire, stalked, oval to lance shape, pale under, veins curve to tip. Opposite, entire, stalked, narrow elliptical shape, taper at both ends, pale under, veins curve to tip. Alternate, entire, stalked, broadly oval, rounded base, taper at tip. Glossy green above, form clusters at end of branches. 'Quilt-like' surface. Opposite, entire, stalked, oval to lance shaped, 5 to 7 pairs of veins, whitish under.
Branches Gray, smooth, some wart-ish bumps Purplish Greenish, smooth. Twigs red. Younger branches reddish in fall, winter and spring
Mature Fruit White with red stalks dark blue, greenish stalks dark blue, red stalks white to lead, pale red stalks
Native Status Native Native Native Native


Notes: Gray Dogwood is indigenous to the Garden area. Eloise Butler catalogued it on April 29, 1907 (listed as Cornus paniculata). This plant was listed on Martha Crone's 1951 inventory of plants in the Garden at that time (listed as Panicled Dogwood). Gardener Cary George added plants in 1989 as did Curator Susan Wilkins in 2012. It adapts to a wide range of habitat and is native throughout Minnesota except the far SW and the NE corner.

There are 6 native dogwoods of the Cornus genus found in Minnesota. In addition to the 4 in the Garden, detailed in the table above, there are Bunchberry Dogwood, C. canadensis; and Round-leaf Dogwood, C. rugosa, both of which are historical but indigenous to the Garden.

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.