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Alternate-leaf Dogwood Cornus alternifolia


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Alternate-leaf Dogwood, leaf and flower
credit: Jaknouse/CCSA

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Alternate name: Pagoda Dogwood

Family: Cornaceae, Dogwood view all from this family

Description Also known as pagoda dogwood, this species is native to eastern North America, from Newfoundland west to southern Manitoba and Minnesota, and south to northern Florida and Mississippi, although it is rare in the Southern United States.

It is a small deciduous tree growing to 25 feet (rarely 30 feet) tall, with a trunk up to 6 inches diameter. The branches develop characteristic horizontal layers separated by gaps, with a flat-topped crown. Its leaves are elliptic to ovate and grow to 2-5 inches long and 1-2 inches broad, arranged alternately on the stems, not in opposite pairs typical of the majority of Cornus species, the leaves are most often arranged in crowded clusters around the ends of the twigs and appear almost whorled. The topside of the leaves are smooth and green, while the undersides are hairy and a bluish color. Its bark is colored gray to brown. It becomes ridged as it ages. C. alternifolia produces small cream colored flowers with four small petals. The flowers are grouped into cymes, with the inflorescences 2-5 inches across. It bears fruit similar to berries with a blackish blue color. These fruits grow 3-4 inches across.

C. alternifolia is found under open deciduous trees, as well as along the margins of forests and swamps. These trees prefer moist, well drained soil.

The tree is regarded as attractive because of its wide spreading shelving branches and flat-topped head, and is often used in ornamental plantings. The flower clusters have no great white involucre as have those of the Flowering Dogwood, and the fruit is dark purple instead of red and of intensely disagreeable aromatic flavor.

Habitat Canyons & valleys, Mountains.

Range Florida, Eastern Canada, Plains, New England, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Great Lakes.

Comments This tree has infrequent disease and insect problems, however wind and ice damage are common. It is tolerant of poor soils and clay.

Exposure Preference Partial shade to sun.

Flower May - June

Native Distribution Newfoundland. to Minnesota & s. Manitoba, s. to n. Florida, Alabama & Arkansas

Site Preference Rich, deciduous & mixed woods; rocky slopes; coastal plains; shrub balds

Soil Preference Cool, moist, acid, well-drained soils.

Wildlife Value Attracts ground, water and songbirds and many mammals.