TREES & plants

Pagoda dogwood

Close-up of the flowers of pagoda dogwood.

Pagoda dogwood is an excellent native plant for the four season garden. The unique horizontal  branching pattern has a distinct tiered habit, often catching snow in the winter. Clusters of white flowers show up in spring, dark green foliage turns a beautiful burgundy-red in fall, and blue-black berries attract many birds. Pagoda dogwood makes an excellent small tree or large shrub in a shade garden or for naturalizing.  

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.

Botanical name: 
Cornus alternifolia
All Common Names: 
Pagoda dogwood, Alternate-leaved dogwood, Alternate-leaf dogwood
Family (English): 
Family (Botanic): 
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Shrub, 
  • Tree
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area, 
  • Illinois, 
  • North America
Planting Site: 
  • Residential and parks, 
  • Under utility lines
Landscape Uses: 
  • Hedge, 
  • Massing, 
  • Mixed border, 
  • Specimen, 
  • Utility
Size Range: 
  • Small tree (15-25 feet), 
  • Compact tree (10-15 feet), 
  • Large shrub (more than 8 feet)
Mature Height: 
15-25 feet
Mature Width: 
20-32 feet
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), 
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 3, 
  • Zone 4, 
  • Zone 5 (Chicago), 
  • Zone 6, 
  • Zone 7
Soil Preference: 
  • Acid soil, 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Acid Soils: 
  • Prefers
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Intolerant
Salt Spray: 
  • Intolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Intolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Intolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Spring blossoms, 
  • Fall color, 
  • Fragrant flowers, 
  • Showy fruit, 
  • Showy flowers
Season of Interest: 
  • Early winter, 
  • Mid winter, 
  • Late winter, 
  • Late spring, 
  • Early summer, 
  • Mid summer, 
  • Late summer, 
  • Early fall, 
  • Mid fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • White
Shape or Form: 
  • Broad, 
  • Oval, 
  • Round, 
  • Upright
Growth Rate: 
  • Moderate
Transplants Well: 
  • No
  • Butterflies, 
  • Game birds, 
  • Small mammals, 
  • Songbirds, 
  • Water birds
More Information: 

Tree & Plant Care

A native, low-branched tree or large shrub reaching 15 to 25 feet high and wide.
Prefers moist, slightly acidic, well-drained soil.
If planted in full sun, the shallow root system benefits with a layer of mulch to moderate soil temperature and conserve moisture.
Best in part shade, protected from wind.

Disease, pests and problems

The tree is susceptible to minor leaf infections and golden stem canker.

Disease, pests and problem resistance

Tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 9

Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

Native to the northern portion of the eastern United States.

Bark color and texture 

A wine-purple to brown bark with vertical tan lenticels.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple, alternate, oval leaves about 4 inches long;  leaves are medium green with pale underside;  leaf margins are wavy.
Leaves turn reddish-purple in fall.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Small white flowers in 2 inch wide,  flat-topped clusters.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Clusters of bluish-black berries (drupes) and red peduncles (flower stalks);  ripens in July.


Cornus alternifolia or Pagoda dogwood