In my back yard between the compost box and the wisteria arbour stands a Pagoda Dogwood, Cornus alternifolia. This small tree is one of my favourite plants because it offers an understated beauty through several seasons.
Native to the eastern US, the Pagoda Dogwood is named for its tiered branching pattern, which is particularly beautiful during winter when highlighted by a heavy frost or light snowfall. This tree reaches a mature height of about 25 feet, and may be somewhat irregular in form, although mine is very symmetrical.
Cornus alternifolia prefers cool, moist, acidic soils (exactly the conditions in my garden) and in a warm, sunny climate appreciates some shade (not necessary here).
The flowers are small, white and borne in flat clusters in late spring. Some references claim they are fragrant, but I`ve never noticed any scent from mine. Of course any fragrance is probably drowned out by the perfume from the nearby wisteria, which blooms at about the same time.
The leaves are unremarkable; 2″ to 5″ long and 1″ to 2.5″ wide and medium to dark green, but provide a lovely backdrop for the fruit as it develops. Those flat flower clusters produce an amazing crop of small berries, beginning green and shifting through red on their way to a purplish-black finish.
Shortly after they ripen they are devoured by avian marauders, but I don`t mind because I`m not eating them (apparently they`re mildly toxic to humans). Last summer when the generous crop ripened my little tree was literally quivering with robins; I worried (unnecessarily) that they would damage the tree because there were so many of them feasting on the fruit.
Fall colour varies, depending upon conditions, sometimes my Pagoda Dogwood flushes a lovely dark red-purple hue, and other years it fades to dull yellow with reddish hues. It always sheds early, being one of the first trees to go naked in fall, but that`s a good thing because then I can admire the graceful structure of my Cornus alternifolia.