Cornus florida

flowering dogwood

The name 'Dogwood' conjures up images of clouds of white or pink flowers, drifting through Spring, against the pinks and reds of Azaleas and Redbuds. Such images are associated with the native Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida. Flowering Dogwood is only one of many different and excellent Dogwoods, many of which are not as well known as the favorite native, but which deserve the same attention. One such plant is the Cornelliancherry Dogwood, Cornus mas. Cornelliancherry Dogwood is a native of western Asia and has been cultivated in Asia and Europe since ancient times.

Cornelliancherry Dogwood has two special characters that set it apart. First, it blooms with bright yellow flower clusters that almost glow against the rich brown bark, and it flowers in early Spring before most other flowering trees and shrubs are out. Second, by July, those flowers have matured to fire-engine red fruits that are very beautiful and also edible. Although they taste a bit like sour cardboard to many people, the fruits are favorites of birds and other wildlife.

Cornelliancherry Dogwood is a multistemmed small tree with handsome, flaking bark that will grow to 20' in height and spreads to 15'. The foliage is much like our old friend the Flowering Dogwood but it is more refined and does little in the way of Autumn color. It can be treated as a large shrub or a small tree in the landscape, especially if pruned to remove the lower branches.

Cornelliancherry Dogwood is hardy throughout the Southeast and into the North as well. It transplants easily and is fairly adaptable to different soils although it does best in rich soils and full or partial sun. This tree has no serious pest or disease problems. To propagate by seed, place the seeds in slightly damp peat moss in a plastic bag and store at room temperature for 4 months. Then place the bag in a refrigerator (not the freezer!) for an additional 4 months, remove and sow. For vegetative propagation of selected forms, softwood cuttings can be taken in in June - July.

There are a number of cultivars of this tree with additional character to offer the landscape. 'Alba' is a white fruited form while 'Flava' bears golden fruits. 'Aurea' is a golden foliaged form and 'Variegata' is a particularly striking variegated cultivar whose leaf margins are cream colored. 'Golden Glory' flowers very profusely and has a somewhat more upright and tree-like form than other cultivars. 'Nana', on the other hand, remains low and compact with small foliage. These cultivars, however, are very rare and not available in North Carolina at this time. Try hunting specialty growers outside the state to find them.

The Cornelliancherry Dogwood is often thought of as one of the few early flowering shrubs or trees that is hardy enough to brave the first frosts of Northern Springs . This is indeed one of its worthy traits, but this sprightly little tree has much to offer Southern landscapes and gardens as well. Cornelliancherry Dogwood is tough, fairly adaptable, and reliably beautiful in flower well before the Flowering Dogwood has even begun to crack its first drift of white or pink. The curious, attractive fruits bring a bright red note to the green foliage of mid-Summer. If you want a new experience, take a taste of one of those fruits. Its unlikely that you'll give up sweet cherries for Cornelliancherries, but the fun of trying is yet another reason to plant Cornelliancherry Dogwood in your landscapes and gardens. Remember to plant it where the fruit will be in reach!