Suppl. Pl., 125. 1782.
Shrubs or trees, to 12 m, flowering at 2 m. Stems clustered; bark thick, corky, plates rectangular, 0.5–1 cm wide; branchlets usually green to yellowish green, sometimes reddish-brown, glabrous; lenticels lenticular, then splitting periderm longitudinally. Leaves: petiole 20–50 mm; blade narrowly to broadly ovate or obovate, 4–12 × 2.3–7 cm, base usually cuneate, rarely rounded, apex abruptly acuminate or cuspidate, abaxial surface yellow-green, papillose, appressed-hairy, adaxial surface dark green, glabrate; secondary-veins 5–6 per side, most arising from basal 1/2. Inflorescences flat to hemispheric, 3–15 cm diam., 50–100-flowered; peduncle 30–60 mm; branches and pedicels yellow-green, turning red in fruit, alternate on central axis, proximal 2–3 orders with minute bracts. Flowers: hypanthium appressed-hairy; sepals 0–0.2 mm; petals cream, 2.5–4 mm. Drupes blue, globose, 5–8 mm diam.; stone subglobose, laterally compressed, 5–6 × 5–6 × 4 mm, slightly ribbed. 2n = 20.
Phenology: Flowering Apr–Jun; fruiting Jun–Aug.
Habitat: Deciduous hardwood forests, usually mesic or dry-mesic, loamy soils, rocky slopes.
Elevation: 10–2000 m.
St. Pierre and Miquelon, Man., N.B., Nfld. and Labr. (Nfld.), N.S., Ont., P.E.I., Que., Ala., Ark., Conn., Del., D.C., Fla., Ga., Ill., Ind., Iowa, Ky., Maine, Md., Mass., Mich., Minn., Miss., Mo., N.H., N.J., N.Y., N.C., Ohio, Pa., R.I., S.C., Tenn., Vt., Va., W.Va., Wis.
Cornus alternifolia persists around abandoned homesteads in Nebraska and occasionally escapes, but does not appear to be naturalized there. A putative hybrid in Nova Scotia between C. alternifolia and C. sericea was named C. ×acadiensis by M. L. Fernald (1941c).