Rough-Leaved Dogwood

Illustration of rough-leaved dogwood leaves, flowers, fruits.
Scientific Name
Cornus drummondii
Cornaceae (dogwoods)

Rough-leaved dogwood is an irregularly branched thicket-forming shrub or small, spreading tree.

Leaves are opposite, simple, 1–5 inches long, ½–2½ inches wide, conspicuously veined, lacking teeth, egg- to lance-shaped; upper surface olive green and rather rough-hairy above; lower surface paler with woolly, dense hairs; leaf stalk slender, rough-hairy, green to reddish. Leaves smell faintly like sour milk.

Bark is gray-brown with shallow grooves and short, thin plates.

Twigs are green and hairy when young, reddish-brown and smooth with age.

Flowers May–June, yellowish-white, borne in spreading, long-stalked clusters 1–3 inches across; flower stalks 1–2 inches long, hairy; petals 4, spreading, pointed at the tip.

Fruits August–October, globe-shaped, fleshy, 1–2 seeded, white, about ¼ inch wide, the style (small stalk) on tip of fruit persistent.

Key identifiers:

  • Roughened upper leaf surface
  • Secondary veins somewhat crowded toward the leaf base (most secondary veins arise in the bottom half of the leaf)
  • Fruits white.

Similar species: Missouri has five species of dogwood. Rough-leaved is perhaps the most common species found in disturbed habitats and tolerates drier conditions than other dogwoods. This species can hybridize with other dogwoods, and one occasionally finds an individual plant or small colony (spread via root sprouts) with characteristics intermediate between the two parent species. These hybrids are usually sterile.

Other Common Names
Roughleaf Dogwood

Height: to 20 feet.

Where To Find
image of Rough-Leaved Dogwood distribution map

Statewide. Probably occurs in every county.

Occurs in dry or rocky woods, thickets, old fields, limestone and dolomite glades, prairies, bluff escarpments, occasionally low wet ground, along ponds, streams, and at the base of bluffs. This dogwood is one of the hardiest of Missouri shrubs and will withstand drought or extreme cold. It spreads by underground stems, sending up sprouts at the margin of the thicket. It is difficult to manage in prairies, especially hill prairies in northwestern Missouri.

Native Missouri shrub or small tree. A hardy landscaping shrub, offering value as a windbreak and for wildlife cover.

This dogwood is a particularly hardy landscaping shrub, although it is seldom planted on purpose as a windbreak around farmsteads. The root systems can help prevent erosion. Its presence in rural settings encourages the presence of birds and other animals. Many people appreciate the ornamental qualities of the flowers, berries, and autumn leaves.

As with other dogwoods, the wood of this species is heavy, strong, and durable. The trunks aren't large enough to produce boards, but the wood of this and other dogwoods has been used for small woodenware articles, such as chisel handles, mallet heads, small pulleys and wheels, spindles, and shuttleblocks.

In old-fashioned hand looms, shuttleblocks, carrying the weft thread, are thrown from hand to hand by the weaver. In the 1800s, the textile industry shifted from hand-shuttling to less-gentle, mechanized looms, and shuttles made from dogwoods were ideal, being strong enough for the machinery wear and tear, yet wearing smoother, not rougher with use. Many dogwood trunks were harvested in the south and shipped to textile-manufacturing centers in New England and Europe.

Native Americans and pioneers knew of this shrub's antibiotic properties and used various parts of the plant, including bark, leaves, and fruit in a variety of ways to treat several different conditions. People have used the small stems, stripped of bark, as chew sticks to stimulate the gums and prevent tooth decay.

The species name, drummondii, honors Thomas Drummond (1780-1835), a Scottish botanist who explored widely in North America in the 1820s and 1830s.

Thickets of this colony-forming dogwood provide excellent cover and nesting habitat for birds and small animals. Many types of birds nest in the thickets.

The fruit is eaten by dozens of bird species, including northern bobwhite, wild turkey, greater prairie-chicken, wood duck, and many songbirds. These birds fly away from the shrubs, excrete the seeds, and thus disperse the seeds away from the parent plants.

Mammals that eat the fruits include squirrels, chipmunks, mice, and even bears. The leaves and twigs are browsed by deer.

This and other dogwoods are the special food plants for several types of moth caterpillars and other insects:

  • The dogwood thyatirid (Euthyatira pudens), a false owlet moth whose caterpillars roll the leaves into little shelters for themselves. They eat mainly dogwoods but also sometimes eat other plants.
  • The northern eudeilinia (Eudeilinia herminiata), a pretty white hooktip moth whose caterpillars apparently are limited to dogwoods.
  • The fragile white carpet (Hydrelia albifera), a white geometrid moth with rows of speckles that can make it look like a piece of lace; its larvae apparently are limited to dogwoods and white birch.
  • The dogwood borer (Synanthedon scitula), a clearwing moth whose adults look amazingly like wasps. The larvae bore beneath the bark of dogwoods plus several other kinds of trees.
  • The dogwood calligrapha (Calligrapha philadelphica), an ornately patterned chrysomelid beetle that feeds only on the foliage of dogwoods.
  • The dogwood spittlebug (Clastoptera proteus), a yellow and black hopper that is limited to sucking the juices of dogwoods and members of the blueberry family.
  • The dogwood sawfly (Macremphytus tarsatus), a kind of wasp whose caterpillars are conspicuously banded with black, white, and yellow and often are seen in groups as they feed on dogwood leaves.

There are many more insects that aren't so limited to dogwoods but still rely on them, plus a diversity of other plants, being available for their larvae: aphids, mites, scales, beetles, weevils, midges, and moths. The moths include a number of species of slug caterpillars (including the hag moth), which have stinging hairs, plus some xanthotype geometers and the gorgeous polyphemus and cecropia moths.

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Similar Species
About Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines in Missouri
There are no sharp dividing lines between trees, shrubs, and woody vines, or even between woody and nonwoody plants. “Wood” is a type of tissue made of cellulose and lignin that many plants develop as they mature — whether they are “woody” or not. Trees are woody plants over 13 feet tall with a single trunk. Shrubs are less than 13 feet tall, with multiple stems. Vines require support or else sprawl over the ground.