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This is the tree for you if you want passersby to stop and ask “What kind of tree is that?!” This graceful tree is named for its tiered, horizontal branches that resemble a pagoda. The leaves are notable for their quilt-like appearance and alternate leafing pattern, which gives the plant its other common name—alternateleaf  dogwood. In May, fragrant, creamy yellow-white flowers appear in 2-3 inch flat-topped clusters, giving way to berry-like drupes on red stalks that turn pink to red, then blue to black as they ripen.  All four colors may be on the tree at once, adding to the uniqueness of this Cornus. Fall color is reddish-purple, copper, and burgundy, giving this tree year-round Interest. Has good resistance to deer and black walnut. 


Grows naturally along and within moist woodlands, on stream banks, and in fields. Makes an elegant specimen for smaller spaces, such as patios or entries.  Beautiful grouped in a shrub border or as woodland understory. Better at thriving in northern areas than cold-sensitive white-flowering dogwood (Cornus florida).


In parts of the country, pagoda dogwood is susceptible to golden canker that is so-named for its characteristically golden color. Affected stems and branches should be quickly removed to prevent spread to the main trunk.


Plant Characteristics: 

Grows to a height of 10-25’ with a slightly wider spread.


Prefers full to part sun. Appreciates afternoon shade, particularly in hotter climates.


Prefers rich, moist, well-drained soil. Growth is diminished in heavy clay soils. Tolerates short periods of drought.


Oval, green leaves are 3-5” long and are usually clustered at the tips of the branches. 


Glossy twigs are brown to deep maroon with a few diamond-shaped lenticels. Older bark is gray and sometimes furrowed. Trunk may be single or multi-stemmed and 4” or less in diameter.   


Wildlife Value: 

Over 100 species of moth and butterfly caterpillars eat the foliage, including some of our showiest moths: cecropia, io, polyphemus, imperial, and hickory horned devil (all pictured here in order, caterpillars first). The nectar and pollen attract long- and short-tongued bees, wasps, flies, and butterflies.  The fruits are eaten by tanagers, flickers, cardinals, bluebirds, catbirds, robins, cedar waxwings, vireos, and other birds, along with chipmunks, rabbits, and deer.  Beavers browse the branches of plants near water if the deer and rabbits haven’t gotten there first. Dense foliage provides excellent nesting cover for birds.

Medicinal, Edible and Other Uses:

Chippewa used the bark to make an eye medicine and to break a fever. Various parts of the plant have been used as an astringent and made into a tea to reduce fevers and treat flu, headaches, fatigue and as an appetite stimulant. A poultice from the bark or leaves can be applied directly to wounds.

Dogwood, Pagoda, Cornus alternifolia

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  • We happily purchase or trade other plant material for locally gathered native seeds. Please provide pictures of the mature plant if possible, ideally fruiting or flowering for best ID.

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