Cornus mas form in flower. Photo: Sandy Feather
The dense, rounded clusters of yellow flowers on corneliancherry dogwood (Cornus mas) that appear while the rest of the landscape is still cloaked in winter’s grays and browns will be a welcome relief from this long, cold winter. It is native to central and southern Europe and western Asia, where it is found in dry deciduous forests and meadows.
This slow-growing ornamental tree matures to 15-25 feet tall and 15-20 feet wide with an upright, arching to rounded-oval growth habit. Trees may be trained to a single trunk, but are more commonly multi-stemmed. It grows best in full sun to part shade and moist, well-drained soils rich in organic matter, but is adaptable to clay soils as long as they drain well. Cornus mas is also pH adaptable, and tolerates alkaline soils as well as acidic ones. It is also tolerant of urban conditions, with the exception of deicing salts. Cornus mas is quite tough and durable, disease-resistant, and hardy in USDA Zones 4-8.
Cornus mas has opposite, glossy, dark green leaves through the growing season. Fall foliage color ranges from non-existent to a good reddish-purple. Mature trees have scaly, exfoliating bark that is somewhat ornamental, at least to us plant geeks.
The edible fruits that mature in late summer are bright red and quite showy. These drupes are olive to pear shaped and develop the best taste after they fall to the ground; they are quite astringent right off the tree. Cornus mas has been cultivated for its fruit since ancient times, and is still used for jellies, preserves, syrups and alcoholic beverages. The fruit is high in Vitamin C, and a number of varieties have been selected for fruit production rather than the tree's ornamental attributes.
Cornus mas can be used in beds and borders, as a specimen or a screen. It tends to be low-branched, and tolerates heavy pruning, so it can also be used as a hedge.
'Aurea' - A yellow-leaved form that is very hardy; leaves age to green in warmer climates.
'Elegantissima' - A striking variegated form with leaves edged with pink or yellow; loses the variegation as the leaves mature. Smaller and weaker than other cultivars. 'Aureo-elegantissima' and 'Tricolor' may be the same plant.
'Flava' - Produces yellow, rather than red fruit; fruit ripens earlier than red-fruited forms.
'Golden Glory' - Selected for its upright growth habit, but may not be as hardy as other cultivars.
'Elegant,' 'Pioneer,' 'Red Star,' and 'Yellow' - these varieties have been selected for fruit production. Their fruit is reportedly sweeter than that of ornamental cultivars.