Introduction to The British Gardener's website

Damn good plants - Red twig dogwoods Part 3

If there was ever a plant you might refer too as a drag queen then the Blood twig dogwood, Cornus sanguinea would take the crown, or would it be tiara?  Largely over looked through most of the year, this dogwood comes alive as any drag queen would, during its cabaret show that lasts all winter.

'Midwinter Fire' -, m o n t s
The name Blood twig gives it a ominous feeling but it refers to the rich color of its stems in winter.  In fact, 'sanguinea' derives from the Latin  meaning 'blood red'.   The stems starts yellow at its base and gradually turns orange then crimson as it reaches the peak, giving it a feeling that the plants on fire.  This color contrast provides the fix that so many of us crave during the dark dull days of winter.

Found growing through much of Europe, from Britain to Scandinavia, down to Spain and east into Greece it has adapted well to live outside of its natural range.  However, just like the Tartarian and Redosier dogwoods, the blood twig will too languish if grown in too hot of a zone.  It will appreciate moisture, especially during periods of drought but once established is fairly tolerant of the occasional hardship.

The Winter Walk, Anglesey Abbey, UK -, Green_blade
Only a few varieties exist on the market and most have found their way into garden centers and landscapes around the Washington DC area.  However, in recent years a smaller variety come on the market opening more possibilities for its use.  Up until then it was considered to large and spreading for the average garden.  Below is a list of the most commonly seen varieties.

'Arctic Sun' is the newest member of the blood twig family.  Hailing from a famed breeder of dogwoods, Andre van Nijnatten in the Netherlands. This dwarf form only reaches 3 to 4 ft, half of what they can normally reach.  Breeding hasn't changed any of the characteristics that we have come to love, but the breakthrough in size means it has more appeal for use in the smaller garden.  In fact, I have this planted in my garden and its appearance is unparalleled in the winter landscape.  This coming spring I will need to whack it back in order for it to fill it out better, a job that will cause anguish I'm sure, but will definitely payoff for next winter.

'Midwinter Fire' has been the old standard since it was released.  Originally discovered in a German garden in 1980, this selection showed an overall improved color than the species.  It was only until the 1990's that it finally earned its name and made it into mainstream cultivation.  Be warned, this variety can reach 8-10 ft, but with stooling, a process of cutting the stems down to the ground to induce new growth, in early spring before the new growth emerges, its height can be controlled.

Mass planting for best show -,  le_sloth
'Winters Flame' is another dogwood to come from the same breeder as Arctic Sun, Andre van Nijnatten.  This is the first year I managed to find someone with stock of this selection as prior to that the only variety that seemed to be available was 'Midwinter Fire'.   Though similar and even being noted by the woody plant guru, Michael Dirr to be the same, it is listed as compact, reaching a height of 4 to 6 ft.  Spread can get wider but chopping the suckering growth with a spade will keep it in control.

Bloodtwig fall colors -, Tower Hill Botanic Garden
So on the cold dark days of winter why not warm your soul with the bonfire of color that these dogwoods provide.  They may not sing volumes for most of the year but during that forgotten season of winter, it will step out on stage and shine like the sparkling sequin dress fit for any drag queen singing show tunes.

Jumped into the conversation late?  Check out Part One on Tatarian Dogwoods and Part Two on Red Osier Dogwoods.  Feel free to comment and share your thoughts, I'd love to hear from you!