Alternate Leaf Dogwood


Alternate Leafed Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)


Our tallest native dogwood can look like a 6 foot (1.8 m) shrub or a 20 foot (6.1 m) small tree. It is one of the most underrated shrubs, whether native or non-native. The bright green bark is streaked with white, except on newer wood, where it is dark purple. Clusters of creamy white flowers turn into dark purple berries. Its branches tend to be long and horizontal. Leaves are typical of dogwoods, with distinct veins running towards the tip. Buds are small and alternate.

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Growing Conditions:

Often found at the edges of woodlands and as an understory plant in a variety of forest types. It tolerates both sun and shade and will grow on almost any fertile, moist, well-drained site.


This is one species we grow exclusively from seed. Collection is easiest along the edges of woods where the fruit crops are usually heaviest, from late July through September. Break the fruit by squeezing between your fingers and plant as soon as possible. Most will not germinate until the second spring, but should grow over 1 foot (30 cm) in that season. Collecting fruit before fully ripe (when still pink) and planting soon after may allow germination in the first spring. This shrub can be grown from cuttings, but our success rate has been very low and not worth the effort. Few wooded areas have an excess of young plants that have grown from seed. Most young plants are suckers growing from the roots of larger specimens and are difficult to dig up successfully without damaging the parent plants. We do not recommend transplanting.

Wildlife Uses:

Berries are a preferred food of ruffed grouse, northern flicker, downy woodpecker, eastern kingbird, gray catbird, American robin, wood thrush, hermit thrush, Swainson’s thrush, gray-cheeked thrush, cedar waxwing, red-eyed vireo, evening grosbeak, purple finch and pine grosbeak. Chipmunks and other small mammals make use of the fruit, while buds are eaten by ruffed grouse and ring-necked pheasant. Alternate leafed dogwood provides cover and nesting sites to many species of birds.

Areas of Usage:

Since this is one of our shrubs that is most tolerant of shade, it can be used extensively in woodland plantings. Plant one or two seedlings wherever there is enough light for them to get established, or in small patch cuts with other species of trees and shrubs. This will help diversify a forest, both in species and height, while providing an additional source of food. As a landscape plant, it is extremely versatile, growing in the sun by itself or in the shade of larger trees. Its physical grace adds a Japanese-like touch to any garden (it is often called “pagoda” dogwood). The dark purple fruit maturing on bright red stems adds to its attractiveness in the late summer. Alternate leafed dogwood will also increase the variety of songbirds and small mammals that visit your area.

Additional Information:

Alternate-leaved Dogwood is found scattered throughout the province. It is a shrub or small tree rarely exceeding 30 feet in height with a diameter of 4 inches. It has a low spreading crown made up of nearly horizontal branches and numerous short smooth upright twigs and branch-lets. It is easily distinguishable from the red-osier dogwood by its alternate leaves and its dark green or purplish twigs often streaked with white. It prefers rich soils and is commonly found on ravine slopes and intervals. The wood is of no commercial importance because of its size.

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