Cornus alternifolia – Pagoda Dogwood

Cornus alternifolia - Pagoda Dogwood

Cornus alternifolia - Pagoda Dogwood

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.cornus alternifolia - ripening fruit

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.

Pagoda Dogwood, showing form

Pagoda Dogwood, showing form

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.

Pagoda Dogwood in bloom

Pagoda Dogwood in bloom

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.

Cornus alternifolia unripe fruit

Cornus alternifolia unripe fruit

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.

Pagoda Dogwood - Ripe fruit - before the birds noticed!

Ripe fruit - before the birds noticed!

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.

Cornus alternifolia fall colour

Cornus alternifolia fall colour


About hortophile

I am a very opinionated, slightly obsessed gardener with decades of experience in the retail nursery industry. A lucky resident of the "Wet Coast" of British Columbia I tread a muddy path between practicality and beauty, with my veggie patch, herb garden and fruits vying for position with the beautiful trees, shrubs and flowers that I can't resist. DON'T ask me to choose between them! I believe in environmental responsibility and common sense.
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6 Responses to Cornus alternifolia – Pagoda Dogwood

  1. Anna says:

    Pagodas are one of my favorites too! As a designer, I use them a lot in my plans. They’re perfect for landscaping.

  2. Pingback: Pagoda Dogwood «

  3. Good Morning, I’m with the National Assn of REALTORS in Chicago and we’d like to use your “Dogwood Pagoda” photo on one of our websites. Would you be able to reply by email so I may send you the details? Thank you, Denise

  4. Jim warman says:

    I have been looking to purchase a pagoda dogwood as they are hardy to zone 3. I live in a zone 4 area just north of kamloops. I’ve tried the local nurseries without success and wonder if you could direct me to a nursery. We have family in the lower mainland so it’s a good excuse for a trip.

    • hortophile says:

      Hi Jim, Any of the larger nurseries in the lower mainland should have pagoda dogwood, they aren’t terribly uncommon. Try Cannor in Abbotsford or Chilliwack, Cedar Rim or Aarts Nursery in Langley or one of the Art Knapps locations. Give them a call before visiting though, save yourself some gas!

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