Cornelian cherry is the only species of dogwood that produces edible fruit. It is a small, upright to spreading, 15- to 20-foot-tall tree that bears small yellow flowers very early—in late winter or early spring, before leaves develop. Flower buds are conspicuous and attractive in the winter, and the bark is flaky, exfoliating, and gray brown to brown. Foliage turns purplish red in the fall.
The fruits, about the size and shape of a medium-sized olive, ripen to a dark reddish maroon in late summer. They are delightful in jellies, tarts, and sweetmeats and also are used to flavor sherbets and distilled spirits. Fruits contain twice the vitamin C by weight as oranges.
Cornelian cherries are hardy in Zones 5 to 8. They grow in full sun and partial shade and prefer fertile, well-drained soils but tolerate a wide range of soil types. They are easy to transplant when young but take a while to get established. Cornelian cherries tend to be multistemmed with branches to the ground, but they can be pruned and trained into single-stemmed trees. This tree is one of the few small landscape trees with edible fruit that you can plant in shady areas under large trees. Plants are usually pest-free.
Cultivars include Aureo-elegantissima, which has creamy-white variegated leaves; Flava, which has yellow fruits that are larger and sweeter than the other species; and Golden Glory, which has upright branching and bears large, abundant flowers and large red fruit.
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