The tiny yellow cornelian cherry flowers are arranged in clusters that cover the bare branches in early winter.
Cornelian cherry fruits are edible and ripen in mid-summer when they turn from green to dark red.
Cornelian cherry (actually a dogwood, not a cherry) is a deciduous multi-stemmed shrub or small tree that gets up to 15 ft (4.5 m) tall with a similar spread. It sends up suckers that can turn a single plant into a thicket. Cornelian cherry has opposite, oval, dark green leaves around 4 in (10 cm) long that sometimes turn a brilliant reddish purple in autumn. The yellow flowers are very small and clustered in abundant, but small, umbels just ¾ in (2 cm) across. Cornelian cherry blooms in late winter, just before the leaves come out. The fruits are bright red football shaped single seeded drupes that are juicy and sour but edible when ripe.
Among the several named cultivars of Cornelian cherry are ‘Variegata’ which is smaller, to just 8 ft (2.4 m) tall, and has white leaf margins; ‘Elegantissima’ which has leaves with yellow and pink margins; ‘Alba’ with white fruits; ‘Flava’ with yellow fruits; and ‘Aurea’ whose leaves are yellow at first, eventually turning green in late summer. ‘Spring Glow’, with bright yellow flowers and dark green leaves, has a shorter chilling requirement than most, and is more suitable for the warmer parts of the species’ useful range. Cultivars selected for fruit quality are available within its natural range in western Asia.
Cornus mas is native to southeastern Europe and western Asia where it grows in scrubby woods and dry hardwood forests.
Culture Light: Cornelian cherry does best in full sun but can tolerate partial shade. Moisture: Cornelian cherry is widely adapted and does well in almost any soil that does not stay wet. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 8. Cornelian cherry requires a certain amount of winter chilling before it will bloom profusely, and may not not perform well in zones 7 and 8. ‘Spring Glow’ is apparently the best choice for warmer climates. Propagation: Greenwood cuttings can be rooted, best in late spring or summer. Seed should be sown in autumn for overwintering with germination in spring. Stored seeds will need to be stratified.
The cornelian cherry is one of the first plants to bloom, the tiny yellow flowers appearing in late winter.
Cornelian cherry is an excellent landscape shrub. The abundant yellow flowers appear in late winter and brighten a dark corner that has yet to see the light of spring. This yellow flowered beauty blooms even before the old favorite forsythia (Forsythia spp.) Cornelian cherry responds well to pruning and makes a good screen or hedge shrub. The leaves of cornelian cherry are a lustrous bright green and crowded enough to provide a good summertime screen. They may or may not turn purple in autumn, depending on soil, weather or cultivar. On larger specimens, the attractive exfoliating bark may be displayed by trimming lower branches. Use cornelian cherry as a specimen, pruned to tree shape; as a standalone low branching shrub; or in a hedge row. It is also useful in foundation plantings around large buildings. Cornelian cherry is one of the easiest shrubs to maintain. About the only thing you may need to do is keep the suckers trimmed back to contain the shrub where you want it.
In its natural range in eastern Europe and western Asia, the fruits are highly valued for making wine, syrup, preserves, pies and other deserts. They are high in vitamin C and often prescribed for cold and flu symptoms. Many kinds of birds and other wildlife eat the fruits as well. In fact the U.S. Soil Conservation Service once encouraged planting cornelian cherry for wildlife food and even distributed seeds and seedlings to American land owners.
The wood of cornelian cherry is very dense and heavy and has been used for tool handles, pulleys and weapons.
There are about 45 species in the genus Cornus. Most are shrubs or small trees and nearly all occur in North America, Europe and Asia with just a few in Africa and South America.
The common name of cornelian cherry comes from the color of the cherry-like fruit which is similar to the semi-precious gemstone, carnelian, sometimes spelled cornelian.