Monday, September 27, 2010

When is a Dogwood not a Dogwood?

About eight years ago, while walking the dog, I came across a shrub with lovely pink fruits. It had opposite branching, so I filed it away in my mind as a dogwood, a very common shrub in these locales.

I never again saw the pink berries until earlier this month when I passed a similar shrub along the road into Tahawus. I posted that it was a dogwood and left it there.

Of course, my friend Jackie was not going to let me get away with that. I just knew I couldn't sneak this by her...she wanted to know what kind of dogwood had pink fruits (and I must confess, I wanted to know, too).

Now, I knew the fruits (technically drupes, not berries) turned blue when they ripened, but I could find no information about which dogwood did this. It was frustrating.

So, Saturday evening I drove back up the road to Tahawus, hoping to relocate the plant and get a confirmed identification of it. No luck. What stood out like a sore thumb two or three weeks ago was now invisible.

Not to worry, I thought; I knew where I had seen the original. So yesterday I put the leash on the dog, grabbed the camera, and off we went.

I found the spot, but not a pink or blue fruit was to be seen. The only shrub that was there with opposite branching was decidedly fruit-less.

The leaves looked right, though.

But the buds, which you can just see near the center of this photo (long and thin), were definitely NOT dogwood buds.

I cut off a twig and looked at the pith, which would be helpful in dogwood ID, even though I knew the buds were definitely not dogwood buds.

When I got home, I looked up the owner of the buds (I knew whose buds they were), and sure enough, they belong to a shrub that has fruits that start off pink and turn blue when ripe: nannyberry (Viburnum lentago).

Nannyberry is one of our native viburnums, and viburnums have opposite branching, as well as very distinguishable buds. The fruits are apparently greatly prized by the local wildlife, for in less than three weeks they went from unripe to completely consumed.

So, there we have it. If you see a shrub with opposite branching, do not automatically assume (!) it's a dogwood. It might just be a nannyberry.


  1. Hmmmm, never seen any pink berries around here. I'll have to keep my eyes out.

  2. Ellen, I'd tend to believe it's Wild Raisin (Viburnum cassinoides)if you found it in the Adirondacks. I've never seen Nannyberry in the Adirondacks and I remember Dr. Michael Kudish telling me once years ago in dendrology class that Nannyberry occurs only along the periphery of the park. I can always tell when Wild Raisin is within a few yards of me by the putrid stench it emits (which I actually like). :)

  3. SwilliAm - You could be right. Some of those viburnums can be challenging. However, I know for sure there IS nannyberry in Newcomb, because I planted it. :D I'll take another look at these photos and get out my shrub ID book - it never hurts to be corrected. Thanks.