Cornus alternifolia (Pagoda Dogwood)

Plant Info
Also known as: Alternate-leaved Dogwood
Family:Cornaceae (Dogwood)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:part shade, shade, sun; deciduous and mixed forest understory, floodplains, thickets
Bloom season:May - June
Plant height:12 to 25 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FAC NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 4-petals Cluster type: flat

[photo of flowers] Convex clusters, 1¼ to 2¾ inches across, of short-stalked flowers at the tips of branches. Flowers are creamy white, about ¼ inch wide, with 4 oblong petals that are initially spreading but then fold back tightly over the minute sepals and receptacle. The 4 stamens are much longer than the petals, spreading to ascending around the single white style at the center.

Leaves and bark: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaf underside] Leaves are alternate but occur in tight clusters around branchlet tips, almost appearing whorled. Leaves are 2 to 4¼ inches long, 1¼ to 2½ inches wide, oval-elliptic to nearly round, the tip abruptly tapered to a short point, the base rounded to somewhat wedge-shaped onto a 1 to 2-inch stalk. Upper surface is dark green and mostly smooth with 5 or 6 conspicuous and evenly spaced lateral veins; the lower surface is pale green with short, stiff, appressed hairs. Edges are smooth.

[photo of twig] Twigs are greenish brown to deep maroon, even quite red towards spring and waxy to glossy smooth with a few scattered small, white diamond shaped lenticels (pores). Older bark is thin and gray, mostly smooth often with lighter brown, vertical lenticels. Branches are mostly horizontal and give a distinctive layered appearance. The trunk is typically single, occasionally multiple, rarely over 4 inches in diameter.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a round, dark blue, berry-like drupe, about ¼ inch diameter, on red stalk in upright clusters at branch tips.


The dogwoods are distinguished from other flowering shrubs by the clusters of small, 4-petaled white flowers and opposite (except for 1 species) leaves that are toothless and have prominent, arching, lateral veins. Pagoda Dogwood is a common and widespread understory species of hardwood and mixed forests. It can grow in dense shade and may form small colonies when its lower branches contact the ground and take root, sending up new stems. It gets its name from its broad, spreading, layered branches and is widely popular as a landscaping shrub. Of the 6 Cornus species in Minnesota, this is the only one that does not have opposite leaves. Some references have separated the dogwoods out of the Cornus genus into Swida, making Pagoda Dogwood Swida alternifolia, but this is not universally accepted and not currently recognized in Minnesota.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka, Ramsey and Washington counties.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Trish - Minnetonka/Hopkins area
on: 2015-05-13 13:45:00

I lost a beautiful Japanese maple the winter before last due to rough winter and would like to replace it with a tree that I can shape if possible. A pagoda dogwood was recommended.

Posted by: Richard H - Long Lake - west of Minneapolis
on: 2017-04-16 11:53:07

Can I plant pagoda dogwood in direct, all day sunlight? The location is also 15 feet from a residential street which is salted lightly in the winter. Thanks for your advice.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2017-04-16 13:10:48

Richard, you could plant it anywhere but I would not expect it to perform well in your conditions.

Posted by: Joan B - Northern Wisconsin
on: 2017-09-11 13:07:53

Are the berries of the Cornus alternifolia (pagoda dogwood) edible for humans? Can I plant the seeds to propagate the tree/shrub for wildlife forage? Thank you. jb

Posted by: Nancy - Hennepin County
on: 2018-02-04 13:09:03

What growing conditions are needed? I've read acidic and moist soils are best. Neither of which I have.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2018-02-04 15:10:26

Pagoda dogwood will do best in average to moist soil in part shade. We have it growing under spruce trees in our yard; the spruce only add a minimal amount of acidity to the soil. And the fruit isn't poisonous to humans, but not exactly edible either.

Posted by: Mike - Bloomington
on: 2019-05-09 17:27:55

Last fall I cleared the last of the buckthorn from our back yard, which is composed of a mostly sandy northwest facing slope. We reached the end of a five year buckthorn removal project, which has been challenging to say the least. I was pleasantly surprised to encounter a rather healthy looking pagoda dogwood in a spot I could not remember planting one (although I put in six or so a few years back). It's beautiful so far this spring and I am hoping it thrives even more with the extra sunlight, and that it quickly fills in the hole left by the removed buckthorn.

Posted by: Robin Rainford - West St Paul
on: 2019-06-02 13:03:55

I have two of these that volunteered in the woodsy understory of big oak trees in moist soil and I think this plant is underused. Glossy leaves, early June flowering, colored leaves and fruit in fall. Fills a big space with an airy form.

Posted by: Anita J Hall - Bloomington
on: 2019-07-06 21:55:25

Similar to Mike from Bloomington - I found a little Pagoda growing in the middle of a bunch of Buckthorns on a north facing moderately wooded slope on our property. I too am hoping that it gets enough light to thrive as it is growing beneath the canopy of several older cottonwood and elm trees and also some young maples (amur?) and box elders that I'm contemplating removing.

Posted by: Mike - Wright County
on: 2020-01-08 22:12:10

I have one in my yard in the full blazing sun most of the day and it's doing great. Its 4 years old, has grown a ton and looks very healthy. Not sure why people recommend putting them in shadier spots. Great tree/shrub, would highly recommend it.

Posted by: Mike Sorensen - Sauk rapids
on: 2020-08-19 21:27:18

I planted about a 5' dogwood about a month ago and it's starting to change color and wilt a bit already. I water it 2 times a day, in about 3/4 sunlight. Today's date is august 19th. I'm wondering if this is the time for it to change color already, or if it's dying?

Posted by: Mike - Wright County
on: 2020-08-19 23:04:09

To Mike from Sauk Rapids- The most likely cause of your issue is overwatering and/or improper watering. 2 times a day is too much. They should not be changing color just yet. At the most you should water once a day for only about a week after planting then back it down to every other day for a week then back it down further to once or twice per week for the first season. In the 2nd and 3rd seasons I will water once every couple weeks, barring drought and super hot weather. After about 3 years my trees are on their own, with the exception of drought and high temps. The wilting is no doubt from overwatering. Also, never judge a tree in the first couple seasons, give it time. Could also just be transplant shock, which trees grow out of so don't panic.

Posted by: Lois G Fimmano - Columbia Hts.
on: 2021-05-19 10:26:25

I think mine might be dead. What would kill seemingly healthy tree that has bloomed for 15 years? I'm hoping it's just late this year. Today, I see no buds or leafs except one stalk at the base of the tree.

Posted by: Ella - Stillwater
on: 2022-04-26 18:29:37

I planted a pagoda dogwood ~10 years go, in semi-shade, kept it well watered the first few seasons, and it took awhile but it finally grew into a beautiful architecturally interesting small tree. However, squirrels would harvest the berries and their weight caused significant breakage on the smaller branches, and then it developed golden canker, a fungal disease. I pruned out canker areas where possible, sterilizing tools between cuts, and tried regular applications of sulfur, Daconil, etc to thwart the fungus, but with no success in getting rid of the disease. Next, I cut down the original tree, removed all the brush from the property, and let some basal sprouts duke it out for dominance, but alas those also are showing golden canker symptoms. We are now looking for a small native tree to replace it. They are very beautiful and interesting large shrubs/small native trees and add a lot to the native woodland landscape, but this disease is a major problem.

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