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What's In Bloom: March 2023

Cornelian Cherry, Latin name: Cornus mas

With the arrival of spring, come the first tentative blossoms. For trees, amongst the earliest you will find Cornelian cherry. 

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is not a cherry at all but a kind of dogwood. Though we seldom see it in Arkansas gardens, it grows well here and makes a good early garden show for us.

It grows as a small, low-branched, single or multi-trunked tree reaching 20 feet with a similar spread. Its bark is a peeling, gray-brown color, creating an appealing wintertime display. The leaves are like our native dogwood in shape, but a bit smaller and prone to be cupped.

Unlike our native dogwood, blossoms on the Cornelian cherry lack a showy bract. The showy portion of our dogwood is a modified leaf – called a bract – with the true flowers clustered in the center. Cornelian cherry retains a yellowish set of bud scales, but the display is mainly from the dense cluster of yellow flowers the size of a nickel. Because it is so cool when in bloom, blooms remain attractive for about three weeks. Lacking competition, they always make a nice display in the drab, late winter landscape.

The fruit is a bright red/orange, oblong, cherry shaped drupe about three quarters inch long that contains a single seed. Though edible, you’ve got to be pretty hungry or a bird to properly appreciate them.

Cornelian cherries are hardy throughout our region and make a nice small specimen tree where their early spring blooms can be enjoyed up close. They do best in good soil but are less picky about planting location and soils than our native dogwood. It grows well in full sun or light shade and has considerable drought tolerance once established.

You will find several specimens at BGO. The prominent one is to the right as you walk up to the admissions window and another one can be found near the Butterfly House.

Berni Kurz

Director of Horticulture