If you don’t want passersby to stop and stare at your yard, don’t even think of planting Cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas). This small tree opens the growing season with a bang in March, when its clusters of tiny yellow flowers explode. The show often continues for weeks and can still be going when other spring-blooming favorites, like forsythia and crabapple, join in. The tree offers another blast of color in summer, when bright red edible fruits form, and the flaking gray-brown bark is pretty in winter. But you’ll probably only have to sign autographs in the spring.
Common name: Cornelian cherry, Cornelian cherry dogwood
Botanical name: Cornus mas
Plant type: Deciduous shrub or small tree
Zones: 4 to 8
Height: 15 to 25 feet
• Sun: Full sun to part shade
• Soil: Average, well-drained
• Moisture: Medium to moist
• Mulch: Mulch to preserve moisture in the soil.
• Pruning: Cornelian cherry dogwood will sucker, so if you don’t want a thicket, remove root suckers. Simply mow them down if the tree is surrounded by lawn. Prune lowest branches off to form a tree shape.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By seed, cutting, or division.
Pests and diseases
• Generally free of problems.
• Cornus mas looks good as a specimen plant, as a hedge or screen, and in shrub borders and foundation plantings. For the lowest maintenance, allow it to naturalize in a woodland area.
• Plant Cornelian cherry dogwood in front of a dark green or reddish background to show off its bright yellow spring blossoms.
• Plant two for maximum fruit production. You’ll get some fruit with only one tree, but more with two.
• Reports on the tastiness of the fruit vary. Some call it unpleasant. Others compare it to a tart cherry. You can pickle it or make it into wine, syrup, or jam.
• Birds like the fruit.
• C. mas ‘Golden Glory’ has a more upright habit than the species.
• C. mas ‘Variegata’ has variegated leaves with green centers and white margins.
• C. mas ‘Yellow’ bears tasty yellow fruits.
All in the family
• Many dogwoods are garden favorites. Flowering dogwoods (C. kousa and C. florida) are beloved for their showy spring flowers; pagoda dogwood (C. alternifolia) for its striking horizontal branching pattern; and redtwig dogwood (C. alba), red osier dogwood (C. stolonifera, also C. sericea), and bloodtwig dogwood (C. sanguinea) for their brightly colored stems.
• The dogwood family, Cornaceae, has more than 100 species. In the United States and Canada, we’re familiar with this family through dogwoods and tupelos.
Where to buy
• Arbor Day Foundation, Nebraska City, NE, 888-448-7337, www.arborday.org
• Forestfarm, Williams, OR, 541-846-7269, www.forestfarm.com
• Miller Nurseries, Canandaigua, NY, 800-836-9630, www.millernurseries.com
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo of Cornus mas courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden’s Kemper Center for Home Gardening.)