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Cornus alternifolia is often confused with:
Cornus amomum Cornus amomum
Cornus drummondii Cornus drummondii
Cornus sericea Cornus sericea red stem
Native alternative(s) for Cornus alternifolia:
Cornus amomum Cornus amomum
Plants that fill a similar niche:
Cornus florida Cornus florida
Amelanchier canadensis Amelanchier canadensis
Cornus amomum Cornus amomum

Cornus alternifolia

Previously known as:

  • Bothrocaryum alternifolium
  • Cornus alterna
  • Cornus alternifolia var. corallina
  • Swida alternifolia
Phonetic Spelling
KOR-nus al-ter-nih-FOH-lee-ah
Description

The alternate-leaf dogwood is a shrub or small tree that has horizontal branches that form tiers. The branches are parallel to the ground creating a layered tiered look with upturned branches like a pagoda. This plant may grow from 15 to 25 feet tall and 20 to 32 feet wide.  Fragrant creamy-white flowers bloom from May to June. Bluish-black fruits appear from July to August. A distinctive feature of this shrub is its alternate leaf pattern. The alternate leaves are characteristic of only one other dogwood, Cornus controversa or giant dogwood.

The alternate-leaf dogwood is native to central and eastern Canada and central and the eastern and central areas of the United States. The plant may be found in moist or dry woodlands or along stream banks. It is best suited for cool weather climates, particularly for the summer months.

The genus name, Cornus, is Latin from the word, cornu, which means "horn." This reflects the hardness of the wood. The species name, alternifolia, refers to the alternate leaf arrangement. The common name, pagoda dogwood, refers to the horizontal tiered arrangement of the branches.

The alternate-leaf dogwood is best grown in full sun to partial shade. It prefers acidic, rich loamy, moist, and well-drained soils. It has a fibrous, spreading root system and prefers when the root zone is kept cool. This plant does not transplant well due to its shallow root system. The plant is propagated by seeds and stem cuttings.

This plant is typically cultivated for its ornamental value. On young plants, the bark is greenish-brown but turns gray and furrowed with age. The stems are green to reddish-purple The small creamy-white blooms appear on flattened topped cymes, and the bluish-black drupes are suspended by orangish-red stems. The dark green leaves of summer transition to red in the autumn.

Butterflies, birds, and small mammals are attracted to this shrub for its nectar and fruits. The alternate-leaf dogwood is an excellent native plant with four-season interest. Consider this shrub for your home garden as a specimen plant, shrub border, or in naturalized areas.

NC Native Shrub or Small Tree

Seasons of Interest:

 Foliage: Fall        Bloom: Spring     Fruits: Summer        Bark and Twigs:  Winter

Quick ID Hints:

  • spreading crown and horizontal tiered branches
  • alternate leaves and whorled pattern at the end of the stem
  • creamy white clusters of tiny flowers in late spring to early summer
  • bluish-black drupes in mid-summer with orangish-red stems
  • green to reddish-purple twigs and stems
  • greenish-brown bark turns gray and furrowed with age

Insects, Diseases, and Other Problems: The alternate leaf dogwood does not have any serious diseases or insect problems.  Calico scale, dogwood borer, dogwood sawfly, Japanese maple scale, leafhoppers, and oyster shell scale may be seen.  Anthracnose, leaf and flower blight (botrytis), crown canker, bacterial leaf scorch, powdery mildew, and septoria leaf spot may occur. It can get sunscald, and it does not tolerate salt. Wind and ice damage are common problems.

See this plant in the following landscape:
Collector’s Garden
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Argentea'
    shrub habit, leaves variegated with white
  • 'Big Chocolate Chip'
  • 'Black Stem'
    25 feet tall with black stems
  • 'Brunette'
  • 'Gold Bullion'
    golden yellow foliage
  • 'Golden Shadows'
    variegated leaves with creamy white margins
  • 'Moonlight'
  • 'Pistachio'
  • 'Saya'
'Argentea', 'Big Chocolate Chip', 'Black Stem', 'Brunette', 'Gold Bullion', 'Golden Shadows', 'Moonlight', 'Pistachio', 'Saya'
Tags:
#showy flowers#deciduous#small tree#fragrant flowers#wildlife plant#deciduous shrub#nectar plant#low maintenance#fall interest#flowering tree#showy fruits#specialized bees#NC native#large shrub#spreading#deer resistant#cream flowers#horizontal#native garden#naturalizes#border planting#pollinator plant#Braham Arboretum#nesting sites#multitrunked#poor soils tolerant#larval host plant#food source fall#food source herbage#food source nectar#food source pollen#Coastal FAC#Piedmont Mountains FAC#bird friendly#food source soft mast fruit#bee friendly#Audubon#native#wildlife food source#horizontal branching
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Argentea'
    shrub habit, leaves variegated with white
  • 'Big Chocolate Chip'
  • 'Black Stem'
    25 feet tall with black stems
  • 'Brunette'
  • 'Gold Bullion'
    golden yellow foliage
  • 'Golden Shadows'
    variegated leaves with creamy white margins
  • 'Moonlight'
  • 'Pistachio'
  • 'Saya'
'Argentea', 'Big Chocolate Chip', 'Black Stem', 'Brunette', 'Gold Bullion', 'Golden Shadows', 'Moonlight', 'Pistachio', 'Saya'
Tags:
#showy flowers#deciduous#small tree#fragrant flowers#wildlife plant#deciduous shrub#nectar plant#low maintenance#fall interest#flowering tree#showy fruits#specialized bees#NC native#large shrub#spreading#deer resistant#cream flowers#horizontal#native garden#naturalizes#border planting#pollinator plant#Braham Arboretum#nesting sites#multitrunked#poor soils tolerant#larval host plant#food source fall#food source herbage#food source nectar#food source pollen#Coastal FAC#Piedmont Mountains FAC#bird friendly#food source soft mast fruit#bee friendly#Audubon#native#wildlife food source#horizontal branching
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Cornus
    Species:
    alternifolia
    Family:
    Cornaceae
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Central & E. Canada to N. Central & E. U.S.A.
    Distribution:
    Native: Canada--Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec; US--AL, AR, CT, DE, DC, FL, GA, IL, IN, IO, KY, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, MO, NH, NJ, NY, NC, OH, PA, RI, SC, TN, VT, VA, WV, and WI
    Wildlife Value:
    Fruits are attractive to birds and plants provide nesting sites. Chipmunks, White-Tailed Deer, and Cottontail Rabbits also enjoy the fruits. Beavers will eat the branches of the shrub when near water. Many species of Lepidopteran caterpillars feed on Cornus. Members of the genus Cornus support the following specialized bees: Andrena (Gonandrena) fragilis, Andrena (Gonandrena) integra, and Andrena (Gonandrena) platyparia.
    Play Value:
    Attracts Pollinators
    Screening
    Wildlife Cover/Habitat
    Wildlife Food Source
    Wildlife Larval Host
    Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems):
    More resistant to diseases than other dogwoods. Tolerates deer and black walnut.
    Edibility:
    The fruits are bitter and sour. They are not edible by humans, but they are a food source for grouse, pheasants, wild turkeys, and squirrels.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 15 ft. 0 in. - 25 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 20 ft. 0 in. - 32 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Shrub
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Horizontal
    Multi-trunked
    Spreading
    Growth Rate:
    Slow
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    High Organic Matter
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Wet
    Available Space To Plant:
    12-24 feet
    NC Region:
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    3a, 3b, 4b, 4a, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7b, 7a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Blue
    Green
    White
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Summer
    Fruit Type:
    Drupe
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The drupe emerges green, turns white, and then finally bluish-black by mid-summer. The stems of the fruits appear orangish-red. Each drupe contains a large seed. The fruits taste sour and bitter.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Cyme
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Summer
    Flower Shape:
    Cross
    Flower Petals:
    4-5 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    The flowers are creamy-white and appear as flat-topped clusters. Each cluster measures 2 to 3.5 inches in diameter and contains numerous flowers. Each flower measure 0.25 inches in diameter. The blooms appear from late May to early June, after the leaves emerge. The flowers are not particularly showy.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Red/Burgundy
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Whorled
    Leaf Shape:
    Elliptical
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Length:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The upper surface of the leaf is dark green and smooth, and the undersides appear pale green to white with very fine hairs. The leaves are arranged in an alternate pattern and appear whorled on the ends of the stem. They measure 2 to 5 inches long and 1 to 2.5 inches wide. The leaf veins are pinnate. The foliage is red in the fall.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Dark Gray
    Green
    Light Brown
    Surface/Attachment:
    Furrowed
    Ridges
    Bark Description:
    On young shrubs, the bark appears smooth and pale greenish-brown. The older bark appears gray and slightly ridged or furrowed.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Green
    Purple/Lavender
    Red/Burgundy
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Surface:
    Polished
    Stem Description:
    The twigs and stems are green to reddish-purple.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Lawn
    Naturalized Area
    Patio
    Small Space
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Butterfly Garden
    Cottage Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Winter Garden
    Design Feature:
    Border
    Flowering Tree
    Foundation Planting
    Hedge
    Mass Planting
    Screen/Privacy
    Small Tree
    Specimen
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Butterflies
    Moths
    Pollinators
    Small Mammals
    Songbirds
    Specialized Bees
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Black Walnut
    Deer
    Poor Soil
    Problems:
    Frequent Disease Problems