by Barbara Walvoord
(First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, Dec. 16, 2016)
Autumn and winter are good times to remove invasive shrubs, so resident volunteers have been out with loppers and pruners. Among the tangles of invasive multiflora rose, Oriental bittersweet, and shrub honeysuckle, we often find the native red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), its bright red branches twisting and leaning to find the light or to escape the smothering thicket of invasives.
It’s always a great pleasure to find, and free, this lovely, useful native plant.
Native Americans used red osier dogwood in many ways, peeling the bark for a tooth brush; eating the berries to treat colds, bleeding, or diarrhea; making tools, bows, arrows, baskets, and red dye; and mixing it with other plants for smoking.
At Lathrop, our red osier dogwood, with its underground, spreading root system, helps fight erosion and stabilize our wetlands and wet meadows, where it loves to grow. The plant is food for 32 kinds of birds, including cardinals and bluebirds, as well as animals such as bears, raccoons, rabbits, chipmunks, and mice. Native dogwood supports 115 species of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), who lay their eggs on its leaves and branches, which feed the larvae that become the butterflies we love to watch.
And red osier dogwood delights our hearts with its winter beauty. An especially colorful stand of it can be seen from the east campus community garden if you look west across the meadow to the edge of the trees.
As we have cleared invasives from the woods behind Cranberry Lane, now the red osier dogwood that we liberated can form a beautiful and useful native understory to protect our land and to support the butterflies, birds, and wildlife we love.