Cornus alternifolia

Alternate Leaf Dogwood

Alternate Leaf Dogwood
Photo courtesy Wisconsin State Herbarium and
Robert W. Freckmann

Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods


  • Cornus, from the Latin, cornu, "horn, antler"
  • alternifolia, from the Latin, alternus, "alternate", and folius, "leaf"; hence, "alternate leaf"
  • Common Name drawing a distinction from the more typical, opposite leaf dogwoods.
  • Other common names include Pagoda Dogwood (a misnomer for this native North American species)


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Magnoliophyta, the Angiosperms (flowering plants)
      • Class Magnoliopsida, the Dicotyledons
      • Subclass Rosidae, the Roses
        • Order Cornales, the Dogwoods
          • Family Cornaceae, the Dogwoods
            • Genus Cornus, the Dogwoods
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 27813
  • Also known as Swida alternifolia
  • Hybridizes with Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea)


  • A large shrub or small tree that may reach 25'-30' in height
  • Leaves alternate, mainly at the end of the twigs.
  • Stem
    • Trunk forks near the ground into several branches that spread horizontally in layers.
    • Bark thin.
  • Fruit a berrylike drupe.



  • Newfoundland through New England to Florida Panhandle, west to the north shore of Lake Superior and eastern Minnesota and south through the Midwest to Arkansas and Mississippi.


  • Moist woodlands, along forest margins, on stream and swamp borders, and near deep canyon bottoms.
  • Grows best on deep well-drained soils.
  • Shade tolerant. Dominant understory shrub in aspen (Populus spp.) forests.


  • Fire probably top-kills the plant. If the roots or stems survive fire, it may reproduce vegetatively, or it may colonize fire disturbed sites with animal-dispersed seed.





  • Reproduces by layering, sprouting from the root crown, and by seed.
  • Seed dispersal by gravity and animals.
  • Germination delayed due to embryo dormancy.


  • By seed, following cold stratification.
  • Vegetatively propagated


  • Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
  • An attractive and popular landscape shrub or small tree, generally sold as Pagoda Dogwood, a reference to its shape and not its origins.



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Last updated on 7 March, 2006