Crow’s Nest – Plants we love: Pagoda dogwood

October 5, 2018

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager.

Photo: Daniel Barringer

Even though the common name, “pagoda” dogwood, makes this plant sound East Asian for the architectural reference, it is actually one of our native dogwoods (to Eastern North America). But this young one that I planted in front of our woodpile illustrates the layered branching structure that gives it that name. The tips of the branches point outward like the layered roofline of a pagoda.

Photo: Daniel Barringer

The attractive flowers give way to spectacular fruit which then feed the birds.

Photo: Daniel Barringer

The botanical name of this plant, Cornus alternifolia, spells out another unique characteristic. It’s also called the “alternate leaf” dogwood. Most dogwoods have leaves arranged opposite from each other on the stem, not alternating sides like this one. So it makes an exception to the memory tool horticulture students use to learn tree identification: MAD Cap horse (Maple, Ash, Dogwood, species in the Caprifoliaceae—the honeysuckle family—and horse chestnuts). Most of these have opposite leaves and knowing this helps narrow down the identification of the tree species.