Bulletin #2569, Native Trees and Shrubs for Maine Landscapes: Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

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Developed by Marjorie Peronto, Associate Extension Professor, University of Maine Cooperative Extension; and Reeser C. Manley, Assistant Professor of Horticulture, University of Maine.

For information about UMaine Extension programs and resources, visit extension.umaine.edu.
Find more of our publications and books at extension.umaine.edu/publications/.

Go native!

This series of publications is the result of a five-year research project that evaluated the adaptability of a variety of native trees and shrubs to the stresses of urban and residential landscapes in Maine. Non-native invasive plants pose a serious threat to Maine’s biodiversity. Plants such as Japanese barberry, shrubby honeysuckle, and Asiatic bittersweet, originally introduced for their ornamental features, have escaped from our landscapes, colonizing natural areas and displacing native plants and animals. By landscaping with native plants, we can create vegetation corridors that link fragmented wild areas, providing food and shelter for the native wildlife that is an integral part of our ecosystem. Your landscape choices can have an impact on the environment that goes far beyond your property lines.


Cornus alternifolia autumn foliage
Photo by Reeser C. Manley

Form: a graceful-looking small tree with horizontally-tiered branches that turn upward at the ends

Size: 20 to 30 feet high, two-thirds as wide

Ornamental characteristics:

  • pagoda-like, layered branching structure
  • flat-topped clusters of creamy white flowers held above the foliage in spring
  • loose clusters of blue to reddish purple berries in late summer
  • red, yellow, and orange fall foliage

Landscape Use

Cornus alternifolia flowers
Photo by Reeser C. Manley

Pagoda dogwood is at home in the woodland garden under the shade of sugar maple (Acer saccharum), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), and sweet birch (B. lenta). Use it with other deciduous forest understory trees such as striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) and shadblow serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), and underplant it with colonies of two shade-tolerant viburnums, mapleleaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) and hobblebush (V. alnifolium).

You can also place pagoda dogwood at the forest edge and enjoy its unique horizontal branching habit, spring flowers, and fall foliage against the dark trunks of larger trees. Cornus alternifolia can also be tucked into protected alcoves around the house, or used as a specimen tree in a sunny garden where mulching and summer irrigation protect its roots from heat and drought.


Cornus alternifolia illustration
Drawing by Margery Read

Hardiness: USDA zone 3b

Soil requirements: prefers moderately to well-drained soils

Light requirements: shade-tolerant

Stress tolerances:

soil compaction — intolerant
pollution — intolerant
deicing salts — unknown
urban heat islands — intolerant
drought — intolerant
seasonal flooding — intolerant

Insect and disease problems: infrequent

Wildlife Value

Pagoda dogwood is used for cover and nesting by robins, waxwings, red-eyed vireos, scarlet tanagers, and purple finches. Several species of songbirds eat its berries.


Irrigation: During the establishment period, defined as one year after planting for each inch of trunk diameter at planting time, water your trees regularly during the growing season. Give the root zone of each tree 1 inch of water per week; in general, a tree’s root zone extends twice as wide as its canopy. After the establishment period, provide supplemental irrigation during periods of severe drought.

Fertilization: Landscape trees and shrubs should not be fertilized unless a soil test indicates a need. Correct soil pH, if necessary, by amending the backfill soil. No nitrogen fertilizer should be added at planting or during the first growing season.

To learn more about native woody plants

Visit the Eastern Maine Native Plant Arboretum at University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Penobscot County office, 307 Maine Avenue in Bangor. Established in 2004, the arboretum displays 24 different native tree and shrub species that can be used in managed landscapes.

Reviewed by Cathy Neal, Extension professor, University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.
Photos by Reeser C. Manley.
Illustration by Margery Read, Extension Master Gardener.

project canopy logo

This series of publications and the associated research were made possible in part by the Maine Forest Service’s Project Canopy.

Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

© 2008

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