Yellow-Twig Dogwood Shrubs

Growing Tips for a Star of the Winter Landscape

Yellow twig dogwood bush (image) is grown for its golden bark. It's all about bark color.
Yellow-twig dogwood bushes are grown mainly for their bark color. David Beaulieu

Taxonomy and Botany of Yellow-Twig Dogwood Shrubs

Plant taxonomy classifies yellow-twig dogwood shrubs as Cornus stolonifera 'Flaviramea.' 'Flaviramea' is the cultivar name. A newer designation you will find is Cornus sericea 'Flaviramea.'

In terms of botanical classification, yellow-twig dogwoods are deciduous, multi-stemmed shrubs that average 6-8 feet tall and 7-9 feet wide.

Plant Characteristics

The tale of yellow-twig dogwood's contribution to the landscape begins in late winter to early spring, when the golden color of its bark shines brightest.

Flat-topped clusters of white flowers provide moderate interest later in spring, as do the plant's white berries in summer. The summer green of the leaves yields to a yellow color in autumn, but this color is not rich enough (it is too pale) to make the fall foliage of this rigidly upright bush noteworthy.

In fact, although it is fair to treat this plant as one that gives year-round landscaping interest, it would not be worth growing if not for the golden bark that it bears on its stems, most prominently in late winter and early spring. If you want to have more of those brightly-colored stems to admire (and if you have the space), then you are in luck: these shrubs spread by suckering to form a colony. If you lack the space in your yard for such a colony, "draw a line in the sand" at the point beyond which you do not wish for them to spread, using a spade, and remove the roots that would have produced new stems.


Planting Zones, Sun and Soil Requirements

Grow these winter wonders in USDA plant hardiness zones 3-8. They are indigenous to North America.

Yellow-twig dogwood shrubs should be grown in full sun if you wish to achieve the brightest bark color. They will tolerate partial shade, but reduced sunlight exposure may also reduce the brightness of their golden bark color.

These bushes are good plants for wet areas (for example, wet spots where homeowners may wish to establish woodland gardens), where other plants would suffer from a lack of drainage. They also tolerate clay soil. But mix humus into the soil to keep your yellow-twig dogwood shrubs well fed.

Outstanding Characteristic, Uses in Landscaping

Although the blooms and berries of yellow-twig dogwood shrubs are not totally without merit, there is no doubt that the golden or yellow color (which is at its best in late winter and early spring) of the plant's bark is its outstanding feature, as you would expect from its common name.

The widely-spreading root systems of yellow-twig dogwoods make them good choices to plant on a banking, where erosion control is an issue. That same probing root system makes them poor choices, however, as plants for septic tanks and drainfields

These shrubs serve as specimen plants in winter, when (outside of evergreen trees and shrubs) there is little plant color in the yard.

Plant them where you can enjoy them -- for example, within view from a window, from which you can see them pushing up through the snow. Use yellow-twig dogwoods in combination with red-twig dogwoods for an even more stunning winter display. With or without red-twig dogwoods, yellow-twig dogwoods look best when planted en masse. They also look good when installed up against the wall of a building (a brick wall seems to suit them particularly well), especially if the winter sun strikes this wall in the late afternoon and evening.

Care for These Bushes and Wildlife Attracted to Them

Since the golden color of this bush's bark is brightest on newer branches, care consists largely in pruning yellow-twig dogwoods. Prune them in late winter. For maximal color, prune out 1/3 of the oldest branches every three years or so. Such pruning will promote the desired colorful new growth.

Wild birds are attracted to the berries of Cornus stolonifera 'Flaviramea,' while butterflies are attracted to the flowers.

Origin of the Latin Name, Cornus Stolonifera 'Flaviramea'

When you see the Latin name, Cornus stolonifera (or the newer botanical name of Cornus sericea), what may first come to mind is a plant with red bark, not golden: namely, red osier dogwood. And you would be correct in making that association: the bushes discussed here belong to the same species. But the cultivar name -- provided that you are able to decipher it -- reveals the bark color of the yellow-twig dogwoods; so let's break down the Latin name.

Cornus stolonifera 'Flaviramea' is composed of three Latin or Latinized words, as are many scientific plant names:

  1. Cornus is Latin for "horn" -- a reference to the toughness of the wood, according to Hottes' The Book of Shrubs, p.193.
  2. stolonifera refers to the underground roots or "stolons" by which yellow-twig dogwoods spread.
  3. 'Flaviramea,' the cultivar name, is from the Latin for "yellow-branched."

See my main article on dogwoods to learn about other types of Cornus.