Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Dogwood You May Not Know

The Cornelian cherry is really not a cherry at all but a wonderful dogwood, appropriate for any home landscape. The common name comes from the cherry-like fruit of the tree, native of southern Europe. Cornus mas is a tree worthy of your consideration.

There are several wonderful features of this small tree. It gets about 20 feet high and 15 feet wide at maturity so the size is perfect for most home landscapes. It blooms very early in spring, when the chill winds make us think spring won’t arrive. The foliage is quite nice and tidy. Birds love the fruit. It is multi-stemmed and low-branched making a nice broad oval screen in the landscape. Pests and disease seem to leave it alone.

The flowers are different from the native dogwood we all love. Instead of white or pink petals (actually bracts), Cornus mas has beautiful small frothy golden yellow flowers that look like they have trapped the sun. The flowers are similar to the flowers of another dogwood, Cornus officianalis shown here:

I’ve taken several photos of the flowers and the tree but never seem to arrive at the perfect moment when Cornus mas is in full flower. Here is a photo taken at Blandy Farm at the State Arboretum of Virginia in Boyce. Cornus mas is almost in full bloom but not quite. You can still see the wonderful shape of the tree.

I’ve been collecting several colorful varieties of Cornus mas. Mail order plants are generally quite small and I put them into a nearby raised “hospital” bed for care until they are big enough to go out into the landscape. Today I scanned the leaves of these to show you.
Top leaves in this scan belong to the native Cornus florida, our native dogwood. On the lower left is a chartreuse form of Cornus mas, and on the right the smallish leaves of the highly variegated Cornus mas (still in the hospital bed) that used to have a name but cats destroyed the tag.This scan has the Cornus kousa, the Korean dogwood that blooms on top of its leaves and below, a spattered variegated Cornus mas on the bottom. Again, the tag is gone but the plant remains and is subtle and beautiful. I’ve made the variegated one a bit bigger below so the color shows up better.

It’s a wonderful group of trees and I hope folks will consider them for their home landscapes.

Keep in mind that this is an instance where the Latin name will be important. If you ask for a Cornelian cherry at most nurseries, you will end up with a cherry. If you ask for a dogwood, you will likely end up with the native Cornus florida or the Korean, Cornus kousa. The straight Cornus mas is a lovely mid-green and perfectly wonderful for the landscape. If you want a fancy variegated one, I’m afraid the mail order companies will have to provide your special tree. It’s worth the hunt.

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