Tree 4 - 8 m tall, trunk 8 - 15 cm in diameter Leaves: alternate but appearing opposite or whorled in clusters at end of stem, dark green above, paler beneath, 7 - 12 cm long, 6 - 8 cm wide, oval to egg-shaped with a wedge-shaped to rounded base and pointed tip, non- or wavy-toothed, arching (arcuate) veins, usually hairy beneath. Fall color is yellow to red to purple. Flowers: borne in round-topped open clusters, each with four thin, creamy white, petals, fragrant. Fruit: fleshy with a hard seed in the center (drupe), borne in clusters on red stalks, changing from green to red to bluish black, 6 - 12 mm in diameter. Bark: dark reddish brown or gray, shallowly fissured. Twigs: smooth, reddish brown or green, becoming dark green to purplish red. Buds: green, red or purplish brown, narrow egg-shaped with a pointed tip. Flower buds are rounded. Branches: arranged in horizontal tiers that curl upward at the ends.
Similar species: Cornus alternifolia has arching leaf venation characteristic of the genus, but it is easy to distinguish from other dogwoods because the leaf arrangement is alternate. It also grows as a small tree with low, horizontal, tiered branches and produces clusters of bluish black fruit.
Flowering: late May to late June
Habitat and ecology: Limited areas of the Chicago Region, including moist calcareous woods and partly shaded slopes, bottoms of rocky slopes along streams, and rich woods.
Occurence in the Chicago region: native
Notes: Cornus alternifolia is sold as a landscape tree. The strong wood is used for making tool handles. Wildlife use the fruit and leaves as a food source.
Etymology: Cornus comes from the Latin word, cornu, meaning horn, referring to its hard wood. Alternifolia comes from the Latin words meaning "alternate leaves." The common name pagoda dogwood comes from the horizontal branches tiered and curved upward at the tips to resemble a pagoda.
Shrub or small tree to 6 m, the twigs with white pith; lvs alternate, thin, ovate to oblong or obovate, 5-10 cm, conspicuously acuminate, pale green and minutely strigillose beneath, the lateral veins 4 or 5 on each side; petioles 8-50 mm, even on the same twig; infl usually hemispheric; sep very short or obsolete; fr blue; stone with a deep pit at the summit; 2n=20. Rich woods and thickets; Nf. and N.S. to Minn., s. to Fla., Ala., and Ark. May-July. (Svida a.)
Gleason, Henry A. & Cronquist, Arthur J. 1991. Manual of vascular plants of northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. lxxv + 910 pp.
Infrequent to rare in the greater part of the state. We have only one record for the southwestern part of the state and none for the prairie counties. It usually grows in moist rich soil at the base of usually rocky, wooded slopes along or near streams where it may be locally frequent. The largest specimen seen was in Warren County which was 4 inches in diameter at breast height, and had a clear bole of 6 feet.