Taxonomy and Botany of Yellow-Twig Dogwood Shrubs
Plant taxonomy classifies yellow-twig dogwood shrubs as Cornus stolonifera 'Flaviramea.' A newer name you will find is Cornus sericea 'Flaviramea.' The name 'Flaviramea' refers to the cultivar.
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. The main branches grow rigidly upright, sticking up high enough out of the snow for Northerners to be able to enjoy them fully even during a winter of heavy snowfalls.
Flat-topped clusters of white flowers provide some 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 for very good fall foliage.
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. This color is at its peak in late winter and early spring. If you want to have more of those brightly-colored stems to admire (and if you have space), then you are in luck. That is because 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. Plunge a sharp spade into the ground along this line, and remove the roots that would have produced new stems.
Grow these winter wonders in USDA plant hardiness zones 3-8. They are native to North America.
Sun and Soil Requirements
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 may also reduce the brightness of their golden bark color. These bushes are good plants for wet areas. For example, you can grow them in wet spots where you may wish to grow a woodland garden. Many other types of plants would suffer from a lack of drainage in such areas.
They also tolerate clay soil to some degree. But mix humus into the soil to keep your yellow-twig dogwood shrubs well fed.
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 of the plant's bark is its best feature, as you would expect from its common name. You can rely on this plant if you are looking for color in the winter landscape.
Uses in Landscaping
The widely-spreading root systems of yellow-twig dogwoods make them good choices to plant on a banking, where erosion control is needed. But that same strong root system makes them poor choices as plants for septic tanks and drain fields.
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, try growing them within view from a kitchen window, from where 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 in a mass. They also look good when growing up against the wall of a building (a brick wall seems to suit them very well), especially if the winter sun strikes this wall in the late afternoon.
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 the best color, prune out 1/3 of the oldest branches every three years or so. Such pruning will promote the desired colorful new growth.
Wildlife Attracted to Them
Wild birds are attracted to the berries of Cornus stolonifera 'Flaviramea,' while butterflies are attracted to the flowers.
Origin of the Latin Name
When you first see the new Latin name, Cornus sericea, what may first come to mind is a plant with red bark, not golden bark: 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 reveals the bark color of the yellow-twig dogwoods; so let's break down the Latin name.
Cornus stolonifera 'Flaviramea' is made up of three Latin words, as are many scientific plant names:
- Cornus is Latin for "horn," a reference to the toughness of the wood, according to Hottes' The Book of Shrubs, p.193.
- The new species name, sericea refers to the silky texture of the plant's leaves. The older name, stolonifera refers to the underground roots or "stolons" by which yellow-twig dogwoods spread.
- 'Flaviramea,' the cultivar name, is from the Latin for "yellow-branched."