fbpx Pagoda dogwood | The Morton Arboretum

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.

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.


Botanical name:

Cornus alternifolia

All common names:

Pagoda dogwood, Alternate-leaved dogwood, Alternate-leaf dogwood

Family (English):


Family (Botanic):


Planting Site:

  • Residential and parks,
  • Under utility lines

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Shrub,
  • Tree


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Chicago area,
  • Illinois,
  • North America

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


  • Dry sites

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

Seasons of Interest:

  • early winter,
  • midwinter,
  • late winter,
  • late spring,
  • early summer,
  • midsummer,
  • 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.

Cultivars and their differences 

Gold Bullion™ Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia 'Bachone'): Golden yellow foliage turns chartruse-yellow in the fall. Plants reach 8 to 10 feet high and wide.

Golden Shadows™ Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia 'W. Stackman'): A variegated form with creamy-white margins; best grown in part shade.

Location of Cornus alternifolia (Pagoda dogwood) at the Arboretum