Pagoda Dogwood

Cornus alternifolia

Description & Overview

Native to Wisconsin’s woodlands and forests, Pagoda Dogwood is an incredibly useful small tree or large shrub that provides year-round interest in the landscape. In spring, two-inch clusters of slightly fragrant flowers bloom and then give way to blue-black berries on red peduncles (flower stalks) in summer, a favorite of native wildlife. Maroon fall color and an attractive, horizontal-tiered branching structure with deep purple twigs round out the year to provide interest throughout the seasons.

Core Characteristics

Mature Height: 15-25 feet
Mature Spread: 15-25 feet
Growth Rate: Slow
Growth Form: Broad to upright, spreading
Light Requirements: Full Sun to Full Shade
Site Requirements: Rich, slightly acidic well-drained soil
Flower: Creamy White
Bloom Period: May-June
Foliage: Dark Green
Fall Color: Maroon to Purple
Fruit Notes: Blue-black pea-sized fruits in July

Salable #2 container Pagoda Dogwood. Pictures taken late May.

Suggested Uses:

Use Pagoda Dogwood as a small specimen tree in landscape beds, especially near entries or patios, or as part of a large shrub border. As a native understory plant, this tree is especially appropriate in shady naturalized areas or woodland gardens underneath shade tree canopies.

As a bonus, Pagoda Dogwood is also deer-resistant and can tolerate planting near Black Walnut trees.

Below is an example of a mature, natural-kept specimen on our property in the budding stage. It’s happily sitting under the dappled shade of an oak tree. Also, the pictures highlight Pagoda Dogwood’s excellent layering habit.

Wildlife Value:

Pagoda Dogwood is used by many birds, insects, and mammals as both a food source and for cover. Game birds such as grouse, pheasants, and turkeys enjoy the summer berries. Songbirds such as Catbirds, Robins, Brown Thrashers, Cedar Waxwings, Scarlet Tanagers, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Flickers, Crows, Eastern Bluebirds, Eastern Kingbirds, Northern Cardinals, Veery, Wood Thrushes, Gray-cheeked Thrushes, Hermit Thrushes, Purple Finches, Vireos, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and White-throated Sparrows also enjoy the berries.

Many pollinators and butterflies will visit the spring flowers, and this tree is a larval (caterpillar) host for Cecropia moth (Hyalophora cecropia), Crocus geometer (Zanthotype sospeta), Dogwood borer moth (Synanthedon scitula), Unicorn moth (Schizura unicornis), Friendly probole (Probole amicaria), Inornate Olethreutes moth (Olethreutes inornatana), One-spotted Variant (Hypagyrtis unipunctata), Fragile White Carpet (Hydrelia albifera), Dogwood Thyatirid moth (Euthyatira pudens), Northern Eudeilinea (Eudeilinea herminiata), Dimorphic Snout (Bomolocha bijugalis), White-lined Snout (Hypena abalienalis), and Spring Azure (Celastrina argiolus).

Other insects that feed on Pagoda Dogwood include Dogwood sawfly (Macremphytus testaceus), Four-lined plant bug (Poecilocapsus lineatus), Dogwood leaf beetle (Calligrapha philadelphica), Dogwood spittlebug (Clastoptera proteus), Dogwood twig borer (Oberea tripunctata), Dogwood Clubgall midge (Resseliella clavula), and aphids and thrips.

Deer tends to avoid this plant, so it’s a good choice where deer damage is a concern.

Maintenance Tips:

Plant Pagoda Dogwood in a protected landscape bed with plenty of organic material and organic mulch, such as shredded bark or leaves. This plant is most happy in part-shade conditions where the soil stays cool and moist. It can tolerate full sun provided moisture and mulch are maintained to keep the roots cool. Planting directly in the lawn or in a site where the tree is subject to strong winds is not recommended.

Since Cornus alternifolia has a distinctive shape, prune selectively to emphasize the look while the tree is dormant during winter or very early spring. It can also be pruned of lower branches to create a single-stem specimen.

This plant may self-seed, but any seedlings are easily pulled as they emerge.


Pagoda Dogwood is prone to a small number of issues, primarily fungal diseases such as powdery mildew and leaf spot during wet years. These are usually cosmetic issues and don’t require treatment. Removing damaged or diseased leaves from your property in fall will help avoid recurrence the following year.

Cankers and stem die-back can also be a concern. Prune affected stems at ground level, or several inches below the canker. Keeping Pagoda Dogwood well-watered with plenty of air circulation will help the plant stay healthy and reduce susceptibility to disease.

Leaf Lore:

Pagoda Dogwood gets its common name due to the fact that the horizontal tiers of branches resemble the multiple stories of a pagoda, the tower-like structure commonly found in East and South Asia. Unlike most Dogwoods, the leaves of Pagoda Dogwood are arranged alternately rather than oppositely on the stem, hence its botanical name Cornus alternifolia (i.e. alternate foliage).

Companion Plants:

Pair Pagoda Dogwood with shade tolerant groundcovers, such as Canada Wild Ginger, Pennsylvania Sedge, Lady Fern, or Wild Geranium. Native perennials such as Canadian Columbine and spring ephemerals like Large White Trilium also combine beautifully with Cornus alternifolia in a naturalized area. For use in large shrub borders, try mixing this plant with other natives like Gray Dogwood, Common Witchhazel, and Common Ninebark.

johnson's nursery plant knowledgebase for the midwest tree logo popout 32x32
johnson's nursery plant knowledgebase for the midwest tree logo popout 32x32
johnson's nursery plant knowledgebase for the midwest tree logo popout 32x32
johnson's nursery plant knowledgebase for the midwest tree logo popout 32x32