Cornus is from the word cornu which means “horn” and refers to the hard wood.
The common name of this species refers to the cherry-like fruit that ripen over the summer to bright red and are sometimes eaten as preserves.
Cornelian cherry dogwood is native to central and southern Europe and western Asia. It is found in dry deciduous forests and brushlands.
Not native to Kentucky.
Growth Habit and Form
Cornelian cherry dogwood is a slow-growing, deciduous, small tree or large shrub with a height of 15 to 25 feet and spread of 12 to 18 feet. Trees are upright in youth but spread to a broad arching form with age. The habit is oval-rounded to rounded with a dense network of fine branches.
Leaves are opposite, simple, ovate, entire, 2 to 4 inches long and 2 ½ inches wide. The lustrous dark green leaves develop a deep plum red fall color.
Small yellow flowers pack the dense network of branches in mid to late March, before the leaves emerge and often remain long into spring. Flowers are borne in tiny clusters close to the naked stems. The flowers are similar to Forsythia and are followed by red fruit which is edible and partially hidden by the foliage. Flowers are produced in northern areas but most of the south lacks the chilling hours required to set flower buds. ‘Spring Glow’ is the one cultivar which will flower in the south.
5/8-inch-long, ovoid, bright cherry red fruit ripen in June and July. They serve as food for birds or can be used for preserves.
Dark gray to reddish brown, scaly, curling, exfoliating patches. Bark is very showy and is often displayed by removing lower foliage.
Wild and Cultivated Varieties
Several cultivated varieties have been developed that offer a range of leaf coloration.
‘Alba’ is a white-fruited form.
‘Aurea’ has golden leaves.
‘Aurea Elegantissima’ (‘Tricolor’) is a smaller, slower-growing plant with yellow variegated leaves. Trees require partial shade.
‘Flava’ bears golden fruits.
‘Golden Glory’ has a more upright and treelike form than other cultivated varieties and flowers very profusely.
‘Nana’ remains low and compact and has small leaves.
‘Variegata’ has variegated leaves with cream-colored leaf margins.
Cornelian cherry dogwood offers multi-season interest in the garden. It has two exceptional characteristics: late winter/early spring flowers and summer foliage and fruit. It flowers before most other flowering trees and shrubs, bearing bright yellow flower clusters that appear to glow against the rich brown ornamental bark. By July, flowers mature to bright cherry red fruits. Cornelian cherry is great in groupings or for screens, hedges, or landscape borders.
Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 8A.
The growth rate is slow to moderate.
Cultivation and Propagation Information
Cornelian cherry dogwood transplants easily and is very tolerant of a wide range of soil types and pH, including damp clay. It prefers full sunlight. Use it as a specimen or in a monoculture group planting or shrub border. It is variable in form from a large, rounded shrub to a small tree. If left uncontrolled, plants develop into large drooping clumps, ideal for screening. Cornelian-cherry dogwood responds well to pruning and may be used as a hedge plant or pruned to produce a more upright habit. Cornelian cherry dogwood can be propagated by seed and softwood cuttings. Seed require a warm moist stratification for up to 120 followed by 90 to 120 days of cold. Softwood cuttings can be taken in June and July.
Diseases and Insects
Relatively pest free.
Cornelian cherry dogwood fruit are favored by birds and other wildlife.
Minimal attention given appropriate cultural conditions. Mulching encourages better root growth and moderate drought tolerance. . But not considered highly drought tolerant by any means. Cornelian cherry dogwood can be limbed up and grown as a small tree or grown as a multi-trunked specimen.
TRADITIONAL AND MODERN USES
Fruit is used for preserves and syrup. Cornelian cherry dogwood has been cultivated in Asia and Europe since ancient times.