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Cornelian cherry

Cornelian Cherry Cornus mas Lubera

Cornus mas, otherwise known as the Cornelian cherry, is one of the most valuable native natural and garden shrubs.

   
 
Cornelian Cherry Dogwood 'Tierlibaum'

Cornus mas - a native, wild shrub

From £14.90 *

Grafted Cornelian Cherry 'Coral Blaze'

Cornus mas, Cornelian cherry 'Coral Blaze' – the biggest and bushiest Cornelian...

From £32.40 *

Grafted Cornelian Cherry 'Elegant'

Cornus mas, Cornelian cherry 'Elegant' – the fruity tasting Cornelian cherry;...

From £32.40 *

Grafted Yellow Cornelian Cherry 'Yellow Molalla'

Cornus mas, Cornelian cherry 'Yellow Molalla' – the best yellow Cornelian cherry,...

From £32.40 *

   
 

More useful information about Cornelian cherry

With its early, bright yellow blooms from late February to March, it marks the phenological beginning of spring (far more and more precisely than forsythia). The flowers of the Cornelian cherry offer the early flying bees and insects a rich source of nectar; the fruits with their characteristic sweet and sour taste can be nibbled from the end of August and finally the trees turn golden yellow to orange in early autumn. These trees are superb fruit and ornamental trees! Here in the Lubera garden shop, you will find not only the wild Cornelian cherry but also the three of the best cultivars with edible fruits up to 3 cm in size, which planted in groups or as hedge plants also fit well in smaller gardens.
 

Buy Cornelian Cherries in the Lubera® Shop

When you buy a Cornus mas plant for your garden, the first step is to choose between a seedling-propagated wild shrub and a grafted cultivar. The wild shrubs are a good choice for a hedge that is primarily intended to provide privacy as well as food for wildlife and bees. But also with Cornus mas wild shrubs, it should always be remembered that two wild bushes should always be planted for cross-pollination.

But if you want to have delicious and healthy fruits - with all love and consideration for the other living garden residents - you should choose a grafted variety when buying Cornelian cherries. Incidentally, such can also be pollinated by a wild shrub, and in turn, also fertilises the non-grafted shrubs. However, if you only plant cultivars, you should always choose two different varieties. We have only selected varieties for our range that are not or much less affected by anthracnose, a fungal disease with leaf spots.

The grafted variety Cornus mas 'Coral Blaze' stands out above all because of its bushy, beautiful growth with the overall very high yield. The bright red, coral-coloured fruits are, as with all cultivars, about twice as large as with wild shrubs. The Cornelian cherry variety 'Elegant' grows somewhat weaker, but the dark red fruits have a unique, beautiful pear shape. In our opinion, 'Elegant' is also the most fruity variety, which means that sugar and acid are in an ideal balance. This is striking in both varieties: the green taste tone, which is typically found in wild non-grafted Cornelian cherries, can no longer be tasted here.

A highlight of our range is 'Yellow Molalla', the best yellow Cornelian cherry. Not only is this variety largely resistant to anthracnose, but it also has beautiful, strikingly upright, almost columnar growth. The flowers are also extremely dense, denser than other varieties. And maybe the knowledge of the yellow fruit colour is deceptive to the eye, but every spring during flowering, the bloom of 'Yellow Molalla' appears to us a little more yellow and shining than that of the other varieties. In terms of taste, the absence of the anthocyanins in the fruit of 'Yellow Molalla' is also noticeable; the overall impression is significantly milder and sweeter (but maybe a little less characteristic) than with the red varieties. Since you should plant two varieties for pollination anyway, the combination of 'Coral Blaze' or 'Elegant' with the yellow 'Yellow Molalla' is certainly a good choice.

Cornelian Cherry Cornus mas Lubera

The Origin of the Cornelian Cherries

Although the Cornelian cherries look like cherries, and although they are also enjoyed and processed as stone fruit, they are not related to sweet or sour cherries. They belong to the dogwood family and originally come from the Caucasus region; they migrated to Central Europe after the ice age. However, they are rarely found in natural locations, in hedges, sparse forests and at the edges of forests. On the one hand, this has to do with the super hard and therefore very much sought-after wood for this type of fruit (the wood even sinks in the water), which people have used to make spears, arrows and hand tools. On the other hand, the limited competitive strength of Cornus mas may have played a role, which needs light and sun and is also quickly rooted in by strong-rooted trees. In cultivated cooking, however, the Cornelian cherries - both the wild shrubs and the large-fruited cultivars - can fully develop their advantages (fruit and ornamental value, relatively slow and compact growth). At Lubera we have tested the most diverse cultivated and large-fruited varieties for their garden suitability and included the best in our range.

The Ecological Value of Cornelian Cherries

Cornelian cherries have immense ecological value. They develop a dense root system and are therefore able to secure the ground even on slopes. Their early bloom provides one of the earliest nectar sources for insects, wild bees and honey bees. During flowering, it is also striking how many birds enjoy frolicking in the shrub. As the fruit of Cornus mas ripens, it is quite normal for fruits to fall to the ground unnoticed - they are also an important source of food for wild animals.

Cornelian Cherries - Soil and Location

Cornelian cherries can withstand almost anything. They are absolutely hardy to -30°C and below, and early flowering can withstand short frosts without any problems. Wind and weather cannot harm this plant.  If the flower is too early for the first insects and bees, then wind pollination often helps to secure the yield. Cornelian cherries prefer a sunny, rather dry location. They should have at least a half a day of sun; nevertheless, they also thrive in partial shade; the fruit yield suffers significantly in the shade. Cornelian cherries are among the trees that, despite their rather flat roots, can easily survive periods of drought; at most, the fruit yield can suffer a little. It can be deduced from the natural sites that Cornelian cherries prefer a calcareous soil, but the cultivated varieties, in particular, thrive in slightly acidic or medium-heavy soils. If the soil is heavy, it is advisable to incorporate some compost and sand before planting. Like so many plants, Cornus mas just can't stand waterlogging at all. The relative weakness of the Cornelian cherry, which has already been mentioned, is not a problem in the garden, on the contrary, it does not affect other trees and plantings. One should therefore not plant Cornus mas next to large, competitive trees.

Planting Cornelian Cherries - The Most Important Tips

Cornelian cherries are super robust crops with which you can hardly go wrong. Nevertheless, here are the most important tips; if you only follow them to some extent, there is nothing standing in the way of successful cultivation and harvesting with this almost forgotten type of fruit.

1. Choose a bright location with at least a half a day of sun. Do not plant next to large trees.

2. If there are no other Cornelian cherries nearby, you should definitely plant two different varieties or a wild shrub (from a seedling) together with a cultivar - this is the only way to achieve the maximum fruit yield.

3. For such a small group of several Cornus mas, choose a distance of 1.5 to 2 m if the planting should look like a group planting afterwards; ideally, three Cornelian cherries are planted in a triangle with a leg length of 1.5-2 m. If you have more space or if you want the individual shrubs to stand out, the distance can be 3 m and more, although some varieties such as 'Yellow Molalla' grow very upright and almost columnar.

4. Remove the plastic pot from the young plants offered here in the Lubera® garden shop in a 5 L pot and roughen the root ball so that the fine roots are immediately forced to grow outwards.

5. Improve the soil with compost if the soil is heavy; in this case, it is also worth making the planting pit about 4x as big as the pot.

6. Do not plant deep, but still so that the top edge of the root ball is covered with about 5-10 cm of soil after planting.

7. Don't forget to press down the plant and water it.

8. Pruning the plant is controversial; we recommend not to prune it, but to let the plant grow naturally, as it will be more beautiful. If the young plant has one or two shoots that are significantly higher than the rest of the plant, these dominance shoots can be cut back.

9. Now a little patience is required. It is very typical for the Cornelian cherry to grow very restrained for the first 2-3 years. During this time it can also make sense to support it with a bit of compound fertiliser in the spring. The plant simply needs some time to develop its dense and centred root system and only then does it start to grow. Our recommended Cornelian cherry varieties here in the shop usually bloom in the first year (however, very early, in late February, and usually they are planted later); the first trial fruits can be expected in the second year. The yield really starts in the third year.

Growth and Fruiting Behaviour of Cornelian Cherries

Cornelian cherries grow rather slowly. On average over the years they add about 30-40 cm each year, maybe more at the beginning. The onset of fruit yield then also slows growth. The ideal garden height of 2-3 m is then reached after about 10 years; after that, the large and strong branches can start to be removed completely and the height can be limited (see information on pruning).

The blossoms for the next year are created in the summer; starting in autumn you can clearly distinguish the round, thick flower buds from the elongated leaf buds. Cornelian cherries bloom mainly on the older wood or on the short side shoots on the older wood. Only very short, mostly flat growing last year's shoots (or side shoots from last year's shoots) can already start to bloom, mostly at the branching points and at the first nodes of the shoot. The dominant blossom on older wood also prevents Cornelian cherries from balding too early and only developing flowers and bearing fruit at the top. For this reason, you should never completely remove side wood and generally not prune or only prune very little (refer to the section on pruning below).

The biology and the origin of the flowers are also exciting. A thick bud creates veritable flower umbels with several flowers and four bracts at the base of the umbel. The flowers are very small, but due to their sheer density and number they have a considerable luminosity and long-range effect; in light wind and warm weather you can also smell a light honey scent. Two to three, sometimes more of the small flowers then develop in varieties to up to 3 cm large, usually elongated red or yellow fruits, which are very reminiscent of cherries in the harvest and ripening period. The wild plants produce only 1.5 to 2 cm large fruits, which in contrast to the cultivated varieties usually taste more acidic and greener.

Pollination of Cornelian Cherries

There are several uncertainties regarding the pollination of Cornelian cherries, which should be clarified here. The flowers of Cornus mas are hermaphrodite but largely self-sterile. This means that the pollen of your own variety cannot fertilise (or insufficiently fertilise) the scars of the same variety. In addition, one often reads on the internet and in specialist literature that one should plant two or more plants. However, this only helps pollination if Cornelian cherries are planted as seed-propagated wild shrubs (with seedlings, every plant is genetically different). However, if you plant vegetative, cultivated varieties, just two plants are not enough; only two (or more) plants of different varieties can ensure pollination. This means that different varieties have to be planted together in order for them to be fertilised.

Incidentally, a seedling plant from Cornus mas can also serve as a pollinator for cultivars such as 'Yellow Molalla', 'Elegant' or 'Coral Blaze'; the wild plant itself is then pollinated by the cultivar.

Since the Cornelian cherry can bloom too early when bees and insects fly too little, Cornus Mas has adopted another method of pollination in evolution: wind pollination also seems to play a role, at least in part.

Growing Cornelian Cherries as a Tree or a Shrub?

The question of tree or shrub can be answered easily. Both are possible, but the best advice is growing the plant as a shrub. There are multiple reasons for this:

  • Cornus mas has a naturally wide growth, so it always tends to develop side shoots below or even new shoots from the base. However, the latter must be removed from grafted varieties, since they mostly represent wild shoots from the grafted rootstocks.

Cornelian Cherry Lubera

Picture: Growing as a tree - branches were nevertheless formed below that were not removed

  • A tree with a crown at a height of 1 m or 2 m ultimately enlarges the plant; at some point, it becomes too big; the natural growth of the Cornelian cherry must be disturbed by a strong pruning, which often leads to an unsightly habit for several years.

Cornelian Cherry Lubera

Picture: An unsightly crown after pruning - from my garden

  • When growing as a tree, the red fruit is hardly accessible anymore and any protection against birds is also more difficult.

Nevertheless, growing the plant as a tree is, of course, possible in principle. For this purpose, the strongest shoot of the Cornelian cherry is selected and tied to a post. As soon as the desired height of the crown is reached plus 20 cm, the plant should be cut back to this height in the spring in order to promote branching and crown formation. Of course, side shoots that develop further down are continuously removed; even short fruit shoots should not be left.

In contrast, the instructions for growing the plant as a shrub are like a horticultural paradise: just do nothing; just wait until the plant has established itself and - usually in the second or third year - starts to fruit.

How and When to Prune Cornus Mas

Here you might have to ask if you have to prune Cornelian cherries at all. In any case, our advice would be this: prune as little as possible, actually not at the beginning, unless a single shoot is much higher during planting and then it is cut back to the height of other shoots for more even growth. Do not prune in the first 7-10 years. After that, individual branches that have become too high can be completely cut back. Please always leave a stub where new long shoots or even fruit shoots can develop. In general, this is another similarity to the otherwise unrelated cherries: here, as with the cherries, we recommend never to cut the branch fully back when pruning, but always to leave a stub so that the plant can branch further.

So the question of how to prune would largely be answered with the answer almost not at all. The question of ‘when’ remains. In the spring, during flowering, pruning is psychologically unsuitable (for humans, not for the tree), since the flower must be removed; in the summer around the longest day, the shoots also remove ripening fruit and a growth reaction is hardly to be expected with a plant that starts as early as the Cornelian cherry. Finally, there is autumn, which is perhaps the best suited in exceptional cases, although otherwise, we would argue for the spring pruning of almost all plants. Perhaps, however, our argumentative difficulties show one thing above all: you should (almost) never prune Cornelian cherries!

Hedge Trimming and Cutting Back Cornus Mas

There are two exceptions to the general advice about not cutting:

First, the hedge trimming: Cornelian cherries, also and especially the beautiful, upright growing varieties such as 'Yellow Molalla' can also be grown as cut hedges. For this, the young plants are planted at a distance of about 1.5 m and they are allowed to  grow naturally for the first few years. As soon as the target dimension of the hedge - e.g. 2 m high and 120 cm wide - has been reached, the hedge is cut back to this dimension every year. In contrast to most hedges, it is not possible and does not make sense here to cut twice or three times a year or make sense here, as the the plant can hardly continue to grow after a summer cut. So pruning in autumn or January remains the best solution. This unique cut also means that the Cornelian cherry as a hedge has a more natural character, precisely because it is allowed to grow somewhat out of shape in the growing season.

Second, cutting back to a stub: the hedge cut already shows that the Cornelian cherry tree generally tolerates pruning very well. If, after 20 years, an older Cornelian cherry at a location or in a natural hedge becomes too big, you can cut it back to a stub - after which it regenerates wonderfully from the stem base and from the roots. But be careful: this cut should only be used on wild fruit bushes of Cornelian cherry varieties grown from seedlings. In the case of grafted varieties such as 'Coral Blaze' or 'Yellow Molalla', this can result in you also cutting away the variety yourself at the grafting point. For this purpose, the actually undesirable shoots of the wild rootstock are stimulated to grow.

The Use of Cornelian Cherries in the Garden

The Cornelian cherries are perfect for smaller gardens because they combine ornamental value and usefulness and they also grow relatively slowly. When planted alone they are most beautiful in early spring during flowering and later with the many red or yellow fruits; only that there should be a second tree somewhere nearby. Alternatively, two or three shrubs are planted very close together, e.g. in a triangle with a distance of 1-1.5 m (to ensure pollination). We mentioned and explained the pruned, but still relatively natural-looking hedge in the last section. But the Cornelian cherry fits even more perfectly in a loose, e.g. wild or wild fruit hedge planted to define the property line. Here Cornus mas should be planted at the end of such a hedge so that it gets enough light and is not crushed.

The Cornelian cherry was considered a standard fruit like apple and pear until the Middle Ages and even into the early modern period; later, this wonderful fruit was almost completely forgotten; the competition of the emerging sweet cherry was probably too great. We can undo this largely undeserved fate of the Cornelian cherry by integrating two Cornelian cherries into a row of fruits with apples, cherries or plums and keeping a distance of 2-3 m. A trellis shape is also conceivable: to do this, the Cornelian cherry should be cut back to approx. 30-40 cm above the grafting point in order to achieve the best possible branching. The resulting shoots are then spread out like a fan on the trellis with a width of 3 m. Side shoots that are too long and grow out of the trellis should be regularly cut back to 20-30 cm in autumn or in the spring.

Cornelian Cherries - Healthy or Toxic?

Of course, the fruits of the Cornelian cherry are not poisonous at all, but very digestible. They are only really tasty when they are fully ripe - when they either fall to the ground or almost fall into your hand when picked. Why the question of toxicity floats around in the internet could possibly be due to the fact that the cherry-like fruits do not match the oval, pointed leaves at all; they seem somehow strange, so that one hardly dares to enjoy the now seemingly exotic fruits.

A second reason could be that Cornus mas with its leaves (and with its hairy underside) can lead to redness and rashes in some people if they are touched intensively. This is yet another reason why Cornelian cherries should not be pruned in the growing season - and why Cornelian cherries should not be picked by hand, but rather the ripe fruit on the ground should be picked up...

What Do Cornelian Cherries Taste Like?

As I said, Cornelian cherries only taste good when harvested when fully ripe. This is achieved when the cherries turn dark red, when they fall off the shrub when touched lightly and when they release some juice when pressed. Then the taste is best - sweet and sour at the same time, with a fully ripe sweetness predominating slightly. There is also a slightly astringent, dry note that is very similar to cranberries and Pointillas. Especially with wild shrubs, the taste is usually characterised by a greenish, unripe tone, which means that the wild shrubs can usually only be used for processing; with the new varieties and breeds, however, this hint of greenness has largely disappeared and has given way to a new fruitiness: our varieties here in the Lubera Shop, 'Coral Blaze', 'Yellow Molalla' and 'Elegant' are also suitable for eating fresh.

Constituents

Sugar (7.5-10.5%) and acids (1-2.4% acids, especially malic acid) balance the ingredients of the Cornelian cherry, with the acid slightly dominating the flavour. Another healthy constituent is the high content of vitamin C: 70-120 mg / g fruit weight. In addition, there are various other vitamins, plus pectin and anthocyanins (in the red varieties).

The Many Names of the Cornelian Cherry

The many names of the Cornelian cherry are legendary. In Austria they are called Dirndl, sometimes also Dirndling or Dirndlstrauch, in Switzerland they are called Dierlibaum or Tierlibaum. Names such as Herlitze, Dirlitze, Dürlitze etc. can also be found. Probably all of these terms go back to the same word stem; what it means and what it refers to is not known.

But there are many more names that emphasise in their variety and diversity that this useful tree has had an eminent cultural and practical meaning, at least in the past. What bears so many names will not be entirely unimportant...Here is another small selection of the names for Cornus mas: European cornel, Cornelian cherry dogwood, cornel or edible dogwood. In German, there is also the name Fürwitz, which translates to 'cheeky'. The Cornelian cherry is indeed cheeky, as it flowers long before all other native shrubs - and long before the leaves are formed.

There are plenty of healing properties of Cornelian cherries: in medieval medicine, they were primarily used to treat diarrhoea caused by bacteria; they were used against dysentery and the fruits are said to have a stuffing effect.

How and When To Harvest

Actually one shouldn't really harvest Cornelian cherries by hand, at most snack on fully ripe fruit. It is best to put a cloth or sheet under the plant and get what has fallen down every day (because these fruits are ripe by definition). If, however, the competition of insects and animals becomes too great with this harvesting method, you can of course still switch to manual harvesting, in which case you should really only harvest the subsequent ripening fruits that fall into your hands. Make sure that you have protected your arms with a piece of clothing: this way you are sure that you will not have an allergic reaction after intensive contact with the Cornus mas leaves.

Processing

Ripe Cornelian cherries should be processed immediately or frozen. They don't last very long. Conversely, not quite ripe fruits can be laid out flat and then they will ripen quite well in a few days.

Cornelian cherries can be processed into jams, jellies and chutneys. Due to the emphasised acidity, they are often boiled together with other fruits that are actually almost too sweet, such as pears or apricots. In Austria and Eastern Europe, Cornelian cherries are also often made into fine brandies.

Cornelian cherry jam Lubera

Picture: Cornelian cherry jam

A particularly exciting form of processing the Cornelian cherries is when they are pickled as a kind of red olive in spices and wine vinegar. Red olives with the typical sweet and sour, now additionally spicy flavour will definitely be a topic of discussion at the table and with friends.

Finally, a Cornelian cherry recipe should not be missing. A liqueur made from grain is prepared as follows: put the cherries and sugar candy (about 1 to 1) in a glass and pour neutral schnapps (vodka or fruit brandy) on top. Place in a bright and warm place for about two months, shake regularly, then pour and….of course, drink with reason and pleasure...

Do Cornelian Cherries Get Diseases?

In general, Cornelian cherries are very healthy and diseases are very rare in the garden. Nevertheless, anthracnose has occurred more frequently in recent years, which can be attributed to various fungal diseases and which produces sunken spots on the leaves in the summer (especially in damp weather). With this disease, it must of course always be taken into account that it rarely damages the plant sustainably, since the Cornelian cherry can also compensate for up to a 30% loss of leaf area with increased energy production in the rest of the foliage.

In order to check whether the susceptibility to anthracnose is different for various varieties, we tested more than 10 varieties in our nursery and on the test field. The varieties 'Yellow Molalla', 'Elegant' and 'Coral Blaze', which originally come from Ukraine, clearly did the best. With the yellow variety, 'Yellow Molalla' one can almost speak of resistance; the other two varieties show an increased tolerance.

For reassurance: at many locations, especially in a somewhat drier climate, no symptoms can be found with these varieties of Cornus mas.

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