Not your Grandmother’s Dogwood: A Forgotten Gem Reexamined

The Cornelian Cherry Dogwood (Cornus mas) is a European native dogwood that was probably brought to the United states before 1800. It was cultivated for thousands of years in Europe and was well known to the Greeks and Romans, both for its edible fruit and its extremely dense wood. Nowadays it is virtually unknown here, and undeservedly so.

Cornus mas is a large shrub or small tree, reaching perhaps 20 feet at maturity with an equal spread. Its natural form is shrubby, with multiple trunks, though it can be trained into a tree form. The late winter flowers are small yellow clusters which are both abundant and showy. The shaggy gray bark on mature trees is also an excellent winter feature. The leaves are a good glossy green which, while not as showy in the fall as our native dogwood, will offer some yellow, purple and red tones. The berries are bright red and reasonably tasty if picked when very ripe. They make excellent jams and can even be fermented into a tasty liqueur, or so say the Romanians. Birds and other wildlife like them as well.

Once established, the Cornelian Cherry Dogwood is pretty undemanding and pest free. It likes rich well drained soil but will tolerate lesser conditions. Afternoon shade is beneficial, though it will take full sun. The yellow flowers and exfoliating bark show up well against a dark green backdrop or silhouetted against gray winter skies.

Several cultivars have been selected both for flowering and fruiting. ‘Golden Glory’ and ‘Spring Glow’ are both excellent bloomers with good forms. ‘Elegant’, ‘Pioneer’ and ‘Redstone’ have larger fruit. Trees are self fertile but will have more abundant fruit if two different cultivars are present.

So consider adding the Cornelian Cherry Dogwood to your landscape. It will bring both beauty and a bit of history to your yard.