The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc.

Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States

Pale Dogwood

Common Name
Pale Dogwood (Silky Dogwood, Swamp Dogwood, Blue-fruited Dogwood)


Scientific Name
Cornus obliqua Raf.


Plant Family
Dogwood (Cornaceae)

Garden Location


Prime Season
Late Spring to Early Summer



Pale Dogwood is a plant of moist places, that grows from 3 to 10 feet high as a multi-stemmed shrub, not as a small tree. Bark is reddish-purple on young thicker stems, turning brown with age. Twigs are grayish-green when new, then reddish-purple with silky hair and with buds that are hairy, pointed and appressed to the stem. The pith of older twigs is brown. Young reddish stems Branches may arch over to the ground where they are capable of rooting at the nodes.

The leaves are opposite, entire, narrowly elliptic, 2 - 4 inches long, stalked, pale beneath, wedge shaped base and tapered to a point at the tip. Secondary leaf veins curve toward the tip and are somewhat evenly spaced. Stalks have fine hair.

The inflorescence is a flat branched cluster (a cyme) about 2 inches wide, appearing at the tip of new growth.

The flowers are perfect, white, 4-part, 1/4 inch wide, with 4 white spreading lance-shaped petals, 4 stamens that arise alternate with the petals on long filaments with yellow anthers and a pistil with a single style that has a yellow-green knob-like tip. The green calyx is quite small. Flower stalks and the stalk of the cyme may have fine hair.

Fruit: The fruit is a 1/3 inch diameter round drupe containing one stone seed that is 4 to 6 mm long, irregularly ridged with a pointed apex. Drupes are green initially and mature to a dark blue with greenish stalks in late August.

Species questions: There are 2 species that are very similar and the common name Silky Dogwood has been applied to both. C. obliqua is one and the second is C. amomum. The U of M Herbarium once stated that name is misapplied and the species in collections is C. obliqua, Pale Dogwood. The Minnesota DNR 2019 species census list contains only Pale Dogwood, C. obliqua, and does not list C. amomum. Eloise Butler also used C. amomum when she first planted it. The details between the two species differences are in the leaf structure and the type of hair. The leaves of the Garden plants fit more closely the key for C. obliqua.


Habitat: Pale Dogwood grows in moist soils from a shallow spreading root system, without rhizomes. Full sun is preferred but it will tolerate partial shade. A good specimen grows at the intersection of Lady's-slipper Lane and Geranium Path at the far end of the Woodland Garden. You will find it's branches intertwined with the Ninebark that grows next to it.

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 obliqua, which means 'lopsided' or 'oblique' and refers to the drupe's stone pit which is of a lopsided shape, narrowed and pointed at the base. Other dogwoods have more round stones. The author name for the plant classification - ‘Raf.’ is for Constantine Samuel Rafinesque, (1783-1840), European polymath who traveled in the United States, lived here many years, collected specimens, and published over 6,700 binomial names for plants. He applied to be botanist on the Lewis & Clark expedition but Jefferson turned him down in favor of training Lewis to be botanist and saving the expense of another person.

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

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

flower flower calyx

Above:The individual flowers have 4 spreading petals with the stamens rising opposite them. The green calyx of the flower head is very small.

Below: The upper side of the leaf - veins curve toward the tip. The underside of the leaf is paler color, often with very fine hair.

Pale Dogwood leaf topside Pale Dogwood leaf underside

Fruit Development

Below: 1st photo - Flower cluster of late-June. 2nd photo - Green fruit of early July.

Pale Dogwood Flower Pale Dogwood

Below: 1st photo - Fruit of early August. 2nd photo - Mature blue fruit of late August.

Pale Dogwood Pale dogwood Fruit

Below: 1st photo - Bark on medium age stems is reddish-purple. 2nd & 3rd photos - Twigs are grayish-green when new first year, then reddish-purple with silky hair and with buds that are hairy, pointed and lateral buds appressed to the stem.

Bark Twig Terminal buds

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 with green stalks dark blue with red stalks white to lead with pale red stalks
Native Status Native Native Native Native


Notes: Eloise Butler originally introduced Pale Dogwood to the Garden on April 26, 1913 with plants obtained from Kelsey's Nursery in North Carolina. Her reference was to the scientific name C. amomum. Later the variety name var. schuetzeana was considered the species native to Minnesota, but as explained above, C. obliqua is now considered the correct native species. The current plant in the Garden is not the survivor from Eloise Butler's day as Martha Crone did not list it on her 1951 census, and has arrived in the Garden at a later date. Curiously, neither species is known in North Carolina where Eloise sourced her original 1913 plant. Susan Wilkins added plants in 2019.

C. obliqua in Minnesota is found in widely scattered counties in the east central and in the SE parts of the state. In North America it grows from the central U.S. eastward, but no further south than Kentucky and Virginia. In Canada it is found from Ontario eastward.

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.