last updated 06/02/2022

Cornus mas and Cornus officinialis

A tremendously useful group of small trees which produce copious numbers of bright yellow globular flowerheads, made up of clusters of tiny yellow 4-petaled flowers. Flowering in February, the flower clusters are particularly showy on the bare stems. From these develop usually bright red fruit in late summer. Easy to grow, they are tolerant of most soils and sites. Naturally multi-stemmed and shrubby in habit, they are very tolerant of pruning and can readily be formative-pruned to achieve a single trunk and more traditionally tree-like form.

Cornus mas has a huge distribution from eastern France, extending south and east across into Southwestern Asia. It is bred and cultivated extensively for culinary purposes; when ripe it is said to have an acidic flavour akin to a combination of cranberry and sour cherry. Popular uses for the fruit including making jam, sauce and drying. It is also distilled into various vodka like drinks in a number of countries. It has a use in traditional medicine in some cultures.

Cornus officinalis is native to China, Korea and Japan where it is also used as a food and medicinal plant. 

Visually, the most notable difference between the two species is that C. officinalis often has the added benefit of attractive exfoliating bark.

It is advantageous to plant a named cultivar of Cornus mas or Cornus officinalis rather than a seed grow plant of the straight species. Extensive breeding and selection has resulted in a number of superb cultivars that reliably produce a prolific display of flowers and large fruit from a very young age. Seed grown plants of either species will be variable and will take many years to flower, with the potential to then disappoint! Often it doesn't really matter which cultivar you choose, because the differences between many of them are subtle. However, in addition to those selected for superior fruit and flower, some have also been named for their foliage colour, though unfortunately most of these aren't that spectacular florally. 

We propagate all our plants of these species from cuttings, so they are on their own roots. Elsewhere it is common practice to graft them. This is done purely for commercial reasons because it produces a larger plant more quickly, and requires less skill. However, they sucker dreadfully, and the suckers soon take over and ruin the plant. We prefer to play the long game and do it properly! They can still sucker if thatís their nature, but the suckers are the same as the main plant and so they all grow happily together with the same characteristics that you chose the cultivar for.


Cornus mas 'Aureoelegantissima' (= 'Elegantissima' )
This form has brightly coloured leaves variegated pink, yellow and green. It also seems to be found under a multitude of names, but this I believe to be the current official one. It is a weak grower by comparison with most of our other forms. This tends to result in it becoming a mound of rather tangled thin branches, rather than developing an attractive structure. The flowers are also rather dull, so we no longer propagate it.

Cornus mas 'Elegant'

Cornus mas 'Flava'
Distinguished from its peers by rich golden fruit (instead of the usual red).

Cornus mas Golden Glory flowers from Junker's Nursery Cornus mas 'Golden Glory' 
Deep green leaves and very prolific flowering much younger than is possible from a seedling. Large red fruits. It has very deservedly been promoted to AGM status. It is indeed a great plant, being reliable and easy to grow. 3m

Cornus mas 'Hillier's Upright'

Cornus mas 'Jolico'
This German form was selected for commercial fruit production. Regretfully I don't currently have time to make full use of them. Nevertheless, it is also a fantastic ornamental, since masses of large vivid red berries from mid summer follow the lovely yellow flowers of February. 

Cornus mas 'Kasanlak'

Cornus mas Pioneer flowers from Junker's Nursery Cornus mas 'Pioneer'
I particularly like this cultivar which is distinguished by its bright red pear-shaped fruit.

Cornus mas 'Redstone'
An American selection for heavy fruit production.

Cornus mas Variegata foliage and fruit from Junker's Nursery Cornus mas 'Variegata'  
My favourite of the group, with broad white margins to the leaves. They contrast  superbly with the large bright red berries. An excellent plant for year round interest. Eventually it will make a small tree, but it is better grown as a shrub.

Cornus mas x officinalis
An interesting and attractive hybrid between these extremely closely related species which were kindly sent to us by Mark Weathington of the JCRA.

Cornus officinalis 'Robin's Pride'

Cornus officinalis Spring Glow flowers from Junker's Nursery Cornus officinalis 'Spring Glow'
Previously attributed to Cornus mas, this splendid cultivar is actually a selection of C. officinalis. The most useful visual difference is that C. officinalis with maturity develops attractive exfoliating bark. The late J. C. Raulston introduced this one. As a species, this group flowers best after a cold winter, but this one requires less cold, so is great in warmer climes.
See it in our Winter Garden.

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