Cornus alternifolia (Pagoda Dogwood)

Plant Info
Also known as: Alternate-leaved Dogwood
Family:Cornaceae (Dogwood)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:part shade, shade, sun; deciduous and mixed forest understory, floodplains, thickets
Bloom season:May - June
Plant height:12 to 25 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FAC NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 4-petals Cluster type: flat

[photo of flowers] Convex clusters, 1¼ to 2¾ inches across, of short-stalked flowers at the tips of branches. Flowers are creamy white, about ¼ inch wide, with 4 oblong petals that are initially spreading but then fold back tightly over the minute sepals and receptacle. The 4 stamens are much longer than the petals, spreading to ascending around the single white style at the center.

Leaves and bark: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaf underside] Leaves are alternate but occur in tight clusters around branchlet tips, almost appearing whorled. Leaves are 2 to 4¼ inches long, 1¼ to 2½ inches wide, oval-elliptic to nearly round, the tip abruptly tapered to a short point, the base rounded to somewhat wedge-shaped onto a 1 to 2-inch stalk. Upper surface is dark green and mostly smooth with 5 or 6 conspicuous and evenly spaced lateral veins; the lower surface is pale green with short, stiff, appressed hairs. Edges are smooth.

[photo of twig] Twigs are greenish brown to deep maroon, even quite red towards spring and waxy to glossy smooth with a few scattered small, white diamond shaped lenticels (pores). Older bark is thin and gray, mostly smooth often with lighter brown, vertical lenticels. Branches are mostly horizontal and give a distinctive layered appearance. The trunk is typically single, occasionally multiple, rarely over 4 inches in diameter.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a round, dark blue, berry-like drupe, about ¼ inch diameter, on red stalk in upright clusters at branch tips.


The dogwoods are distinguished from other flowering shrubs by the clusters of small, 4-petaled white flowers and opposite (except for 1 species) leaves that are toothless and have prominent, arching, lateral veins. Pagoda Dogwood is a common and widespread understory species of hardwood and mixed forests. It can grow in dense shade and may form small colonies when its lower branches contact the ground and take root, sending up new stems. It gets its name from its broad, spreading, layered branches and is widely popular as a landscaping shrub. Of the 6 Cornus species in Minnesota, this is the only one that does not have opposite leaves. Some references have separated the dogwoods out of the Cornus genus into Swida, making Pagoda Dogwood Swida alternifolia, but this is not universally accepted and not currently recognized in Minnesota.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka, Ramsey and Washington counties.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Trish - Minnetonka/Hopkins area
on: 2015-05-13 13:45:00

I lost a beautiful Japanese maple the winter before last due to rough winter and would like to replace it with a tree that I can shape if possible. A pagoda dogwood was recommended.

Posted by: Richard H - Long Lake - west of Minneapolis
on: 2017-04-16 11:53:07

Can I plant pagoda dogwood in direct, all day sunlight? The location is also 15 feet from a residential street which is salted lightly in the winter. Thanks for your advice.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2017-04-16 13:10:48

Richard, you could plant it anywhere but I would not expect it to perform well in your conditions.

Posted by: Joan B - Northern Wisconsin
on: 2017-09-11 13:07:53

Are the berries of the Cornus alternifolia (pagoda dogwood) edible for humans? Can I plant the seeds to propagate the tree/shrub for wildlife forage? Thank you. jb

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