Golden Shadows Pagoda Dogwood

Spring Color, Fall Color, Plus Winter Interest

Golden Shadow pagoda dogwood leaves in spring, with their colors of gold, green, and copper.
David Beaulieu

When you're seeking a plant for shady areas (partial, open shade), consider Golden Shadows pagoda dogwood. With its brightly-colored variegated leaves, it could serve as a specimen plant for a woodland garden. Learn all about this unusual tree: what it looks like, how to grow it, and what other plants it is related to.

Botany of Golden Shadows Pagoda Dogwood

Golden Shadows is the brand name for this type of pagoda dogwood, the botanical name for which is Cornus alternifolia Wstackman.

Golden Shadows is, technically, a deciduous tree. While not listed as a dwarf tree, neither is it an especially tall tree. Its height is about right for an area where a specimen of a short or intermediate size is called for.

Plant Traits

This pagoda dogwood tree has green and gold variegated leaves (emerald-green to lime-green on the inside, gold on the outside). It grows to be 10 to 12 feet tall by 8 to 10 feet wide on average, at maturity, but you can easily maintain it in shrub form through a little pruning. Flat-topped clusters of small, white flowers appear in May or June, depending on where you live. Bluish-black berries can follow.

Both new leaves and fall foliage tend to take on some reddish-purple, reddish-orange, or coppery coloration that is quite different from the color the plant has for the rest of the growing season. The branching pattern is marked by horizontality, which is why this plant has shrub-like tendencies, in spite of its classification as a tree.

Planting Zones for Golden Shadows, Geographical Origin of Pagoda Dogwoods

Ironically, given a name ("pagoda") that summons images of the Far East, the Cornus alternifolia parent of the Golden Shadows is indigenous to eastern North America (the suggested planting zones for this pagoda dogwood are 3 to 7).

Sun and Soil Needs for Pagoda Dogwoods

Grow Golden Shadows in a moist but well-drained loam that has an acidic soil pH for best performance, but the plant will also grow in clayey soil. Since its parent is an understory tree in the wild, dappled shade is this pagoda dogwood's preference.

Plant Care

Other than locating it in the right spot in the landscape, to begin with, given its size at maturity, along with keeping its soil moist, growing this pagoda dogwood will add little to your landscape maintenance burden. Pruning is optional, but if you do prune (some people may wish to trim a little here and a little there to modify the shape slightly), do your pruning in late winter. Work compost into its soil to fertilize. This will also help the soil retain water, as will an application of mulch.

Other Types of Pagoda Dogwood

There are a few other choices in pagoda dogwoods for consumers. All have similar flowers and tolerance for cold:

  • The cultivar, Argentea (the silver pagoda dogwood), is also variegated, but its variegation involves a white margin (producing a silvery effect, overall) rather than a gold one. It becomes 12 to 15 feet tall and 10 to 20 feet wide.
  • Giant pagoda dogwood (Cornus controversa) is so called because it boasts a mature height of 60 feet. As its species name, controversa, indicates, this tree, too, has the layered look that justifies the "pagoda" nickname. It is native to eastern Asia.
  • The species plant, Cornus alternifolia, too, grows to be much larger than Golden Shadows (25 feet tall, with a spread also of 25 feet ).

Pagoda Dogwoods and Pests, Wildlife

According to the USDA Forest Service, various types of birds eat the berries of pagoda dogwood (including the ruffed grouse), as does the black bear. In terms of pest problems, wild rabbit control may be necessary, depending on the region in which you live. Moreover, pagoda dogwoods are not deer-resistant plants.

Outstanding Features

Golden Shadows pagoda dogwood trees have an interesting branching pattern and a flat crown, a structure that gives your landscaping a different look and that will be especially helpful in providing your yard with visual interest in winter. But, most of all, gardeners value the coloration of the two-toned leaves, the gold edge of which is truly eye-catching. Both in spring and fall, the foliage color is splendid; the spring leaf color may be best of all.

Origin of the Names

The origin of the first part of the brand name, "Golden Shadows," is obvious enough: The tree's trademark is its golden leaves. The second part of the name probably comes from the fact that the tree is best grown in partial shade.

The common name of "pagoda" dogwood is a reference to the horizontal branching pattern. The oriental structures known as "pagodas" are best known for having upward-curving roofs, a feature that accents horizontality.

The species name, alternifolia, translates as "alternate-leaf," a reference to the fact that the leaves occur alternately along the branches, not opposite each other. In fact, pagoda dogwoods are sometimes called, instead, "alternate-leaf dogwoods," which might be a more descriptive common name, albeit a less poetic one. Walt Stackman is the breeder who discovered the tree, thus the Wstackman part of the botanical name.