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Cornus alternifolia (Alternateleaf dogwood)
Baugh, James C.

Cornus alternifolia

Cornus alternifolia L. f.

Alternateleaf Dogwood, Alternate-leaf Dogwood, Pagoda Dogwood

Cornaceae (Dogwood Family)

Synonym(s): Swida alternifolia

USDA Symbol: COAL2

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N), SPM (N)

Shrub or small tree with short trunk and flat-topped, spreading crown of long, horizontal branches. Alternate-leaf dogwood or pogoda dogwood is a deciduous shrub or small tree, 20-35 ft. tall, with decidedly horizontal branching. Branch ends are upturned. Bark and twigs are green to reddish-purple. Wide, flat-topped clusters of fragrant, white-cream flowers become clusters of reddish-purple berries. Fall foliage is a dull maroon.

Unlike all other native dogwoods, this species has alternate rather than opposite leaves. The name "Pagoda Dogwood" alludes to the flat-topped crown, with horizontal layers of branches. The bitter berrylike fruits of this and other dogwoods are consumed in quantities in fall and winter by wildlife.

The genus Cornus is Latin for a horn.


From the Image Gallery

5 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Shrub
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Fruit Type: Drupe
Size Notes: Up to about 35 feet tall.
Leaf: Dark Green
Autumn Foliage: yes
Fruit: Black, Blue

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White
Bloom Time: Apr , May , Jun
Bloom Notes: Creamy white.


USA: AL , AR , CT , DE , FL , GA , IA , IL , IN , KY , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MS , NC , NH , NJ , NY , OH , PA , RI , SC , TN , VA , VT , WI , WV
Canada: MB , NB , NL , NS , ON , PE , QC
Native Distribution: Nf. to MN & s. Man., s. to n. FL, AL & AR
Native Habitat: Rich, deciduous & mixed woods; rocky slopes; coastal plains; shrub balds

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
CaCO3 Tolerance: Low
Soil Description: Cool, moist, acid, well-drained soils.
Conditions Comments: This tree has infrequent disease and insect problems, however wind and ice damage are common. It is tolerant of poor soils and clay.


Use Wildlife: Attracts ground, water and songbirds and many mammals. The dry, bitter fruits are not edible by human standards, but they provide food for grouse, pheasants, wild turkeys and squirrels. (Kershaw)
Use Other: The roots, mixed with vinegar, yield a light to dark brown dye. (Kershaw)
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Attracts: Birds , Butterflies
Larval Host: Spring Azure

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

Spring Azure
(Celastrina "ladon" )

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA


Description: Propagate by seed or softwood cuttings. The cuttings must not be disturbed until they have been allowed to go through a winter dormancy and have begun spring growth.
Seed Collection: Seeds mature inside blue-black fruit in mid-summer. Seeds can be stored or sown without extracting them from the fruit.
Commercially Avail: yes

Find Seed or Plants

View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.

Mr. Smarty Plants says

Flowering and evergreen shrubs for landscape in Indiana
May 29, 2010
I live in Southern Indiana and we are getting ready to redesign our front landscape. Currently, we have some yews and other shrubs that are unruly and require a lot of pruning and care. My husband hat...
view the full question and answer

National Wetland Indicator Status

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Delaware Nature Society - Hockessin, DE
Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE


Bibref 1186 - Field Guide to Moths of Eastern North America (2005) Covell, C.V., Jr.
Bibref 1185 - Field Guide to Western Butterflies (Peterson Field Guides) (1999) Opler, P.A. and A.B. Wright
Bibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Web Reference

Webref 3 - Flora of North America (2014) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.

Additional resources

USDA: Find Cornus alternifolia in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Cornus alternifolia in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Cornus alternifolia


Record Modified: 2022-10-03
Research By: TWC Staff

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