Trees of Wisconsin

Cornus alternifolia L.f.
alternate-leaved dogwood
Family: Cornaceae
leaf bark
tree branch leaf flowers fruit buds bark bark
The woody species in the genus Cornus can be recognized by the simple, opposite, unlobed, entire leaves and the "arcuate" venation in which the veins curve toward the tip of the leaf as they branch outward from the midrib of each leaf, becoming nearly parallel to the margin as they near it. Cornus alternifolia is the only species of Cornus in Wisconsin that has alternate leaves and it is also the only naturally occurring species of Cornus that has the growth form of a tree--all the others (4) being clearly shrubs. The leaves are strongly clustered toward the ends of the branches. The numerous small, white, 4-petaled flowers in flat-topped inflorescences open in May or June and are similar to the other Cornus species. The berry-like fruits turn blue when ripe, toward the end of the summer.

The growth form is very distinctive because the nearly horizontal branches, although alternate, tend to develop in groups of 3-5 very close together, followed by a relatively long section of trunk with no branches, followed by another aggregation of branches. The result is a conspicuous "layered" look that can be seen in the photo of the tree above.

Cornus alternifolia ranges from Nova Scotia through southern Ontario to Minnesota, south to Missouri and Pennsylvania and in the Appalachian mountains to northern Georgia. It is found throughout Wisconsin in a variety of forests, as an understory species.

known Wisconsin distribution


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