Cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas) is a deciduous shrub to small tree that happens to be related to a very famous native American cousin–flowering dogwood, which is the state flower of Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia. As a result, this native of southern Europe and Asia is often under-appreciated and wallows in obscurity. However, once you’ve seen this beautiful specimen, as I have in a variety of places that include the SC Botanical Garden in Clemson, Spartanburg Community College and NC State University campuses, and the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden in Pittsburgh, you’ll wonder why Cornelian-cherry dogwood hasn’t enjoyed more widespread use.
Spring Glow Cornelian cherry dogwood in full bloom on the Spartanburg Community College campus. Feb. 27, 2016.
Cornelian cherry dogwood blooms for at least 3 weeks in very early in March when little else is in bloom. The golden yellow flowers give rise to sour fire engine red
Closeup of Spring Glow flowers.
fruit in June and July, which are relished by birds but can only be appreciated by us when prepared in syrups and preserves. Although Cornelian cherry dogwood has a shrubby disposition, it will grow 20 to 25 ft. tall and 15 to 20 ft. wide with a rounded crown. I prefer to remove the lower limbs to showcase its attractive mottled gray and tan platy bark.
Flaky, exfoliating bark of Spring Glow Cornelian cherry dogwood.
Cornelian cherry dogwood has no serious pest problems, tolerates most soil types, and is suited for full sun to part shade. It can be used as a hedge, screen, in a shrub border, or in a foundation planting. A few cultivars are available, notably ‘Spring Glow’ (pictured), a seedling selected by the late JC Raulston, former professor and director of the NC State University Arboretum. Spring Glow has larger, showier flowers than the species and blooms earlier than the species in late February. Unlike flowering dogwood, expect little, if any, appreciable fall color from Cornelian cherry. Because it blooms earlier than flowering dogwood—even forsythia—and is endowed with ornamental and edible features, Cornelian cherry dogwood is my gotta-grow tree.