Dogwood - Cornus mas

Dogwood - Cornus mas

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Characteristics of the dogwood

Shrub or small deciduous tree originating from Europe and Africa; not very fast growing in adulthood it can reach 5-7 m in height. It has brown, smooth bark, which tends to lose large scales leaving brown-orange spots; it has a roundish, very ramified habit, with the first branches growing a few tens of centimeters from the ground. The leaves are oval, with a wavy margin, dark green, they tend to become reddish-yellow in autumn, before falling. Between the end of winter and the beginning of spring it produces numerous yellow-colored inflorescences, similar to quilts, which occur before the leaves. In late spring it produces small round, edible berries, which ripen in July and become cherry red.
The introduction in the gardens of the dogwood wild is linked both to its beautiful flowering and to the production of berries.
We can say that the flowering is, together with that of the hazel, one of the earliest in temperate Europe. Towards the end of February, before the leaves appear, the branches are literally covered with very decorative yellow flowers. They become an irresistible call for many insects, but in particular they are favored by bees.

Prefers sunny positions, even if it develops without problems even in partial shade; It is a very rustic and resistant plant, which does not fear the summer heat or the winter cold; it can withstand short periods of drought without problems.Dogwood size and shape

The male cornel tree is a shrub or small deciduous tree. Its height can generally go from two to six meters. In nature, however, if it is in ideal conditions, it can even reach 10 meters.
The branches, when young, are of a beautiful green color and progressively cover themselves with a dark brown bark, with reddish shades. They grow parallel to the ground and soon become densely branched. The leaves are petiolate and inserted in opposite pairs along the branch.
The leaves, of a beautiful bright green, are with an entire margin, oval, but pointed. The lower page is slightly lighter. In correspondence of the veins there are small hairs.
The lateral, arched and regularly spaced veins are very deep. This gives the leaf a slightly wavy appearance.
A quick and easy way to recognize a dogwood in the absence of fruits or flowers is to break a leaf: we will be sure of being in front of this shrub if in correspondence of the ribs we will see small white filaments.

Dogwood cultivation

The cornus mas is a very adaptable tree and can be inserted both in the orchard and in the garden as an isolated ornamental specimen. Suitably pruned it can also be used as a free hedge or barrier, although it would always be advisable to let it grow according to its natural form
To better adapt it to our purposes, it is therefore preferable to consider one of the many cultivars with different characteristics in terms of leaf coloring and general dimensions.
Let's give some indication of the care you need.

Dogwood watering

The first year after planting it is advisable to water regularly, at least once a week from March to September; plants that have been planted for a long time do not need watering.
Irrigation is strictly necessary only in the first six months from the plant, in the absence of prolonged rains. From that moment on it can be said that the plant is completely autonomous.

Cornelian soil

It prefers rich, loose and well-drained soils; however it develops without problems in any soil, even in the poor and very dry. In autumn and at the end of winter bury a good amount of organic fertilizer at the foot of the plant. It is not a demanding plant, but to grow it at its best the ideal is to insert it where the soil is fertile and fresh. In particular, the plant prefers substrates with large amounts of calcium, where it grows naturally in nature (and is therefore considered an excellent indicator).

Cornel fertilization

Fertilization is not strictly necessary. However, an autumn distribution of organic soil improver such as mature manure is always welcome. In spring, to encourage flowering and fruiting, we can then supplement with a few handfuls of slow release granular fertilizer for fruit plants.

Other care

Between January and February, and in any case before the vegetative restart, it will be necessary to intervene to cut dead, sick or damaged branches from snow or wind. We also eliminate the crossing branches, keeping only the strongest ones. The ideal is to open the center pursuing a vase shape.

Dogwood multiplication

It occurs by seed or by semi-woody cutting; since the cornelian cuttings root with difficulty it is advisable to practice in large numbers and to dip them in the powder of rooting hormone before having them rooted in a mixture of peat and sand in equal parts. Almost all of them dogwood present in orchards come from seed, although it is possible to proceed with either cutting or layering. These last methods are to be preferred if a cultivar is to be multiplied in particular, in order to maintain all the characteristics unaltered. Proceed at the end of the summer, on semi-mature wood.
Sowing must be carried out in autumn, so that vernalization can take place. The germination takes place both the first and the second spring, depending on the environmental conditions. The specimen will come to bear fruit only towards the tenth year.

Pests and diseases

Generally i dogwood they are not attacked, nor by pests, nor by diseases.

The flowers of the dogwood

The flowers are grouped in rather small umbels, that is in groups composed of 5 up to 15 elements. They are located at the ends of the short secondary side branches. Each umbrella is inserted in the center of a crown of 4 oval bracts arranged in a cross shape, brown on the outer face and greenish on the inside. Each flower is at the end of a long yellow peduncle. There are no sepals. The corolla is made up of four yellow lanceolate petals, arranged in a cross shape and curved downwards. The four stamens, yellow, are inserted alternating in relation to the petals. The pistil consists of a flattened globular ovary.

The fruits of the dogwood

The fruits are bright red. They reach maturity from late summer to early autumn. They are fleshy and oblong drupes, about 2 cm long and 1.5 cm in diameter. Inside is an elongated stone. The pulp is edible from the moment in which the fruit is ripe, that is when it is slightly soft. Generally, harvesting occurs when they have already fallen to the ground. Their flavor is rather acidic and vaguely reminiscent of the cherries cherries. They are much loved by small birds, and in fact constitute a great attraction. So if we love a populated and living garden this plant is ideal.


It is usually done at the beginning of autumn. It is sufficient to spread some sheets on the ground and gently shake the branches so that the ripe drupes fall.


As we have said, the cornel has become a very popular plant in the gardens of Northern Europe. Breeders then have striven to create new varieties to meet everyone's needs. Here are the best known.

First nameFeatures
very elegant aurea With variegated yellow, green and pink leaves
nana compact
variegated With leaves streaked with creamy white and green
xanthocarpa With yellow fruits
albocarpa With white fruits
Purple Fructu With purple fruits
jolico With large and sweet fruits
pioneer Fruit long up to 3.5 cm, pear-shaped, very juicy and aromatic
elegant It flowers very early and has a medium-sized pear fruit
fastigiata With columnar habit
Golden Glory Abundant flowering and late ripening fruits
Red Star Very large red fruits, round, showy and with a very sweet taste

Dogwood recipe

Dogwood jelly
Put the fruits without stones in a large saucepan and with a thick bottom. Cover generously with water and boil for a few minutes. Allow it to cool and blend. Afterwards the whole thing will have to be filtered in a Chinese colander. We will add 80 to 90% of sugar and cook about 45 minutes, until it is very thick. The ideal way to have a firm gelatin is to add some seeds or some pieces of apple peel.

Dogwood - Cornus mas: Myths and legends and particular uses related to the dogwood

Greek and Latin literature and mythology frequently mention dogwood and its fruits.
For example, the spear that Romulus used to trace the boundaries of Rome was made of cornel. The legend says that the spear managed to take root and that 700 years later, under Tiberius, a huge cornel tree could still be seen on the Palatine Hill.
The Trojan horse, the arch of Ulysses and the spear of San Giorgio seem to have been of this essence.
The cornelian kernel is extremely hard and finds many uses.
It was common in Austria to use them to flavor coffee. Today instead they become excellent natural paddings for puppets to be heated in the microwave. In fact they have the characteristic of remaining warm for a long time and, moreover, they give off a delicate and pleasant fragrance.
They can also be used to make necklaces and bracelets.
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