With all the choices in dogwoods it can be hard to
pick just one. Some are bushy, some are like small trees, some have white showy
blooms. Many look alike and are easily recognizable, like the favored Cornus
florida, flowering dogwood. Certainly one of the most beautiful is Cornus
mas, or Cornelian cherry dogwood. The abundant, small yellow flowers appear
in March, well ahead of the flowering dogwood, and are like a breath of sunshine
on a cold winter’s day.
The Cornelian cherry dogwood is a small, often multi-stemmed
tree, 20 to 25 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide. The leaves are very much like
those of the flowering dogwood, simple and ovate but not as heavily veined. Generally
2 to 4 inches long and dark green, the leaves are sometimes glossy with fall color
that can be a strong yellow, but I have observed more often the leaves simply
falling a disappointing dull yellow.
Many dogwoods are known for their beautiful fruit.
Flowering dogwood has a small, red, glossy drupe that is gobbled up by the birds
almost as soon as they fully ripen in October. Kousa dogwood has a raspberry-colored
1-inch-round drupe that is borne on a pendulous stalk much like a cherry. Cornelian
cherry dogwood fruit is an impressive 3/4-inch-long drupe turning cherry-red
Cornus mas ‘Golden Glory,’ a narrow form
of Cornelian cherry dogwood, is great when you don’t have 15 to 20 feet of space
in your garden to use. In my garden a row of three forms a small hedge line
to screen out my neighbor’s garage from my kitchen and breakfast room windows
in the summer months. In March when they are in bloom it is also an effective
screen: it is almost impossible to focus on anything else in the garden as they
are so beautiful.
Cornus officinalis, Japanese Cornel dogwood,
is extremely difficult to tell apart from Cornus mas. The only differences are
the leaves are more heavily veined and there can be small dense patches of down
in the axis of the veins on the lower surface. It flowers about one week earlier
than Cornus mas and its fruits don’t ripen until about the same time
as Cornus florida.
Golden March Color
With little to no other competition for color
in March it is understandable why these two forms of dogwood, Cornus mas
and Cornus florida, are becoming incredibly popular. What they give us
at the end of the most difficult season of the year is the opportunity to succeed
in having a four-season garden.
Cornelian cherry dogwood fills a late winter void
in my garden, and inspires me as each new season ends to remember its incredible
beauty, but to look back only for a moment. What is more important is to look
forward to all the seasons we have yet to experience and all the new possibilities
they bring to you and your garden.