Growing Cornelian Cherry

Branch of Cornelian Cherries

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The Cornelian cherry is a large deciduous shrub or small tree that features clusters of yellow flowers at the end of winter or early spring. They form into edible red fruits that will bring birds and squirrels to your garden. This species received the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

Latin Name

This member of the Cornaceae (dogwood) family is designated as Cornus mas. The family also includes the tupelos (Nyssa spp.).

Common Names

Names for this shrub include Cornelian cherry, dogwood, European cornel, Cornelian cherry dogwood, and Cornelian cherry dogwood.

Preferred USDA Hardiness Zones

The suggested zones for this shrub are Zones 5 to 8. If you provide a sheltered location, you may be able to plant it in Zone 4. It is originally from southwest Asia and southern Europe.

Size and Shape

At maturity, it will be 15 to 25' tall and 12 to 20' wide. The shrub usually forms into a round shape, but it can also be oval.


This shrub prefers a location that offers full sun to part shade.


The green foliage is two to four inches long and presents in an opposite leaf arrangement. As with other dogwoods, there is also opposite branching.

The leaves may develop some shades of reddish-purple, but this species does not present a notable fall display.

This is one of the earliest shrubs to bloom, and the blossoms will unfurl before the leaves. The clusters of yellow flowers are similar in appearance to forsythia with the bonus of edible fruit.

The red stone fruit (drupes) resemble olives in size and shape. They are used in European cuisine for drinks, syrups, preserves, jams, and sauces. They can be eaten fresh or dried, though they need to be fully ripe so they will lose some of their bitterness. This fruit is also used as a medicine in Europe and China.

Design Tips

You may need more than one plant if you desire fruit. It is at least somewhat self-fertile, but results will be better if the shrub is able to cross-pollinate.

Place it on a colored background to make the yellow blossoms pop.

For a shrub with variegated leaves, choose 'Variegata' or `Elegantissima.' If you prefer golden ones, look for 'Aurea.' Try 'Nana' if you want a plant that only reaches about 3' tall. Instead of red fruit, plant 'Xanthocarpa' or 'Flava' for yellow fruit, `Fructu Violaceo' for purple, and 'Alba' for white ones.

If you live in the Southern United States, 'Spring Glow' is an excellent choice to handle the conditions found there.

This species is a good choice if you want to have birds and squirrels in your garden as both love the fruit.

The bark peels which can help make this even more interesting as a specimen shrub.

Growing Tips

This tree can handle a range of soil types and is a good possibility if you have clay soils in your landscape. For optimal results choose a location that has good drainage.

The Cornelian cherry can spread by suckers, so keep them in check by removing them promptly.

Propagation of this species may be performed through seed germination, cuttings, and layering.


This shrub tends to form multiple trunks. If you would like to create a single trunk and make it look more like a tree, choose the main stem to become the central leader. You can also make this into a formal hedge.

Pests and Diseases

There are usually not many pest or disease problems found with this species, if at all. The following pests and diseases are sometimes associated with the Cornelian cherry.

Possible Diseases:

  • Anthracnose
  • Botrytis blight on leaves and flowers
  • Crown canker
  • Dogwood canker
  • Leaf scorch
  • Leaf spots
  • Phytophthora
  • Powdery mildew

Potential Pests:

  • Aphids
  • Borers
  • Dogwood club gall midge (Resseliella clavula)
  • Leaf miners
  • Scales