Central Virginia Organic Gardener

"And 'tis my faith that every flower enjoys the air it breathes." - William Wordsworth, 1798

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cornelian Cherry

Neat, but Messy, Tree: The Cornelian Cherry

I recently encountered an interesting tree, the Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas, a type of dogwood), at Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia. I have not seen the tree in flower (apparently an early, yellow bloom), but in fruit it is stunning, almost startling. The fruit looks a little like a cherry, hence the name of the plant, but is more elongated (see photo). The fruit is edible, but astringent when unripe, and is only fully ripe after it falls from the tree (see that photo- it does make a mess! If you wanted to harvest this tree, you might need to use a tarp on the ground and gather daily). Some sources describe its flavor as between a cranberry and sour cherry and is used for making jam, sauces and is also used in dried form. The Cornelian cherry can be grown as a large shrub, or small tree, getting about 15 ft. tall and 20 ft. wide. It likes full sun to partial shade and moist, well-drained soils, but can adapt to poor, dry soil, soils of various pH, heat, and drought. It is just about pest-and disease-free, though is tempting to squirrels and birds. It is a little bit sensitive to being transplanted in the fall, so care should be taken in fall to prepare the planting hole, water adequately and protect from road salt sprays.
This will be my next tree to plant!
Happy gardening!


Anonymous said...

I have a huge one of these in my front garden, and it has been a bumper harvest this year. Unfortunately most of them are rotting into my lawn and staining the pavement! any tips on how to clean the mess up? My garden smells a bit like a brewery at the moment.....

Judy Thomas said...

The Cornelian cherry is a plant that proves the garden rule of planning before you plant. The site must be chosen carefully. Like a purple or black mulberry, it would be problematic to plant it near a concrete or decorative walkway or drive, overhanging a roof, or overhanging a pond or water feature. It would be a better plant to grow over mulch or grass, where the mess is not as unsightly (the mulch can be turned over or raked and the fruit will compost into the soil). Other than putting a tarp below the tree and clearing it off daily, there is not much you can do, the fruit will fall where it will. Concrete can be cleaned using a commercial concrete cleaner, after the season of course. Regular hosing might also help. In regard to the grass, the tarp or regular raking is all you can really do. A brick walkway will not show the stain as badly as concrete. Putting some bird feeders up in the tree may attract birds who will clean the fruit up for you!
Sorry the tree is not working out for you. If it continues to be a hassle, you can replace it with an ornamental dogwood that has way smaller and neater fruit.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Judy! We are in a rented house so really have not had much choice in the matter, but I like the idea of putting mulch on the grass which may also hide the smell! the bird feeders too are a good idea. It really is a beautiful tree, but could have certainly been better situated by the landlord!

Judy Thomas said...

...have you tried eating the fruit? Making jam? Just curious

Anita said...

Will you plant the tree this fall? When will it mature and produce the cherries? (I know YOU'LL eat the fruit and make the jam!)Do we see these trees in Virginia?
Good post and conversation between you and Anonymous.

Judy Thomas said...

Hi Anita!
Yes, I have seen these trees in VA, just never in full fruit like the one in Philly. If I do plant one, it will be fall planted. Fall is a better time than spring to plant trees and shrubs, especially if they are dormant. They will still have root growth, but you don't have to worry about stress from summer heat or stressing the leaves from transplant shock. I think it will probably take just a few years to flower and fruit, just like other dogwoods. (All dogwoods produce a fruit, most are just small and inedible)