Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Alternate-leaf Dogwood - Cornus alternifolia (= Swida alternifolia)   L. fils
Members of Cornus with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Family Cornaceae
AuthorL. fils
DistributionA bimodal range in the state. It occurs throughout the Mountains and into the western Piedmont foothills. It then is disjunct to sites in the eastern Piedmont (Guilford and Randolph counties east to Wake and Vance counties). There is a sight record for Gates County in the northern Coastal Plain. It appears to be genuinely absent, if not very scarce, in most of the Piedmont.

This is a very widespread species across southern Canada and most of the eastern US, though it ranges mainly south in the Appalachians to northern GA and AL. In the Piedmont and Coastal Plain of the Southern states, it is very widely scattered, mostly in AL.
AbundanceIt is fairly common to common in the Mountains, locally fairly common in the Piedmont foothills, but is rare and local in the lower Piedmont and close to the VA border farther to the east. It seems to be truly absent in many or most central and southeastern Piedmont counties.
HabitatThis is a dogwood of rich soil. Favored habitats are cove forests, moist hardwood forests near and along streams, and wooded stream banks. Though not restricted to circumneutral soils, it does require moist and fairly rich (often acidic) soils, but it is not a wetland species.
PhenologyBlooms in May and June; fruits in August and September.
IdentificationThis is a medium to large shrub, rarely to small tree size, usually with a single trunk; it normally reaches to about 10-12’ high, and often broader, with a very conspicuous horizontal “layering” of the branches. The deciduous leaves are typical of those of other dogwoods – widely elliptic, entire, and about 3” long, with several strongly parallel veins coming off the mid-vein of a leaf and curving toward the margins. However, this is our only dogwood with non-opposite leaves. It does have branches that come off larger stems alternately, but most of the leaves tend to be clustered toward branch tips and are not easy to see as being alternate. Most people can identify this species by the horizontal layering of branches and by the alternate branching, but others may need the broad and flat clusters of small white flowers to clinch the identification. The numerous fruits are blue in color.
Taxonomic CommentsWeakley (2020) names this species as Swida alternifolia.

Note that Weakley (2020) treats our species of Cornus in the genera Benthamidia and Swida, based on the assumption that recent and not yet confirmed research will split traditional Cornus. We remain conservative until additional studies are done.
Other Common Name(s)Pagoda Dogwood. The species is frequently named as Alternate-leaved Dogwood. This website and many others try to avoid the “-ed” suffix in species names, as the “-ed” is added to a noun that is turned (sometimes awkwardly) into an adjective by adding the “-ed” ; i.e., the site prefers “Roughleaf Dogwood” (or “Rough-leaf Dogwood”) to “Rough-leaved Dogwood”.
State RankS4
Global RankG5
State StatusW6
US Status
USACE-agcp
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