Cornelian cherry

Cornus mas

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Cornus mas, the Cornelian cherry, European cornel or Cornelian cherry dogwood, is a species of flowering plant in the dogwood family Cornaceae, native to Southern Europe and Southwestern Asia.


It is a medium to large deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 5–12 m tall, with dark brown branches and greenish twigs. The leaves are opposite, 4–10 cm long and 2–4 cm broad, with an ovate to oblong shape and an entire margin. The flowers are small (5–10 mm in diameter), with four yellow petals, produced in clusters of 10–25 together in the late winter (between February and March in the UK), well before the leaves appear. The fruit is an oblong red drupe 2 cm long and 1.5 cm in diameter, containing a single seed.



The fruits when ripe on the plant bear a resemblance to coffee berries, and ripen in mid- to late summer. The fruit is edible, as used in Eastern Europe, UK, and British Columbia, Canada, but the unripe fruit is astringent. When ripe, the fruit is dark ruby red or a bright yellow. It has an acidic flavor which is best described as a mixture of cranberry and sour cherry; it is mainly used for making jam, makes an excellent sauce similar to cranberry sauce when pitted, and then boiled with sugar and orange, but also can be eaten dried.

In Azerbaijan and Armenia, the fruit is used for distilling vodka, in Austria and German Alps is used for distilling Dirndlbrand, in Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina it is distilled into rakia. In Turkey and Iran, it is eaten with salt as a snack in summer, and traditionally drunk in a cold drink called kızılcık şerbeti. Cultivars selected for fruit production in Ukraine have fruit up to four centimetres long. It is eaten in Eastern Europe in many ways including as a traditional medicine.

The fruit of C. mas (together with the fruit of C. officinalis) has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine in which it is known as shānzhūyú, 山茱萸 and used to retain the jing.


The species is also grown as an ornamental plant for its late winter yellow flowers, which open earlier than those of Forsythia. While Cornus mas flowers are not as large and vibrant as those of the Forsythia, the entire plant can be used for a similar effect in the landscape.


The wood of C. mas is extremely dense and, unlike the wood of most other woody plant species, sinks in water. This density makes it valuable for crafting into tool handles, parts for machines, etc.

Cornus mas was used from the seventh century BC onward by Greek craftsmen to construct spears, javelins and bows, the craftsmen considering it far superior to any other wood. The wood's association with weaponry was so well known that the Greek name for it was used as a synonym for "spear" in poetry during the fourth and third centuries BC.

In Italy, the mazzarella, uncino or bastone, the stick carried by the butteri or mounted herdsmen of the Maremma region, is traditionally made of cornel-wood, there called crognolo or grugnale, dialect forms of Italian: corniolo.


Cornus mas, "male" cornel, was named so to distinguish it from the true dogberry, the "female" cornel, Cornus sanguinea, and so it appears in John Gerard's Herbal:

This is Cornus mas Theophrasti, or Theophrastus his male Cornell tree; for he ſetteth downe two ſortes of Cornell trees, the male and the female: he maketh the wood of the male to bee ſound as in this Cornell tree; which we both for this cauſe and for others alſo, haue made to be the male; the female is that which is commonly called Virga ſanguinea, or Dogs berrie tree, and Cornus ſylveſtris, or the wild Cornell tree, of which alſo we will intreate of in the next chap. following.

Garden history

The shrub was not native to the British Isles. William Turner had only heard of the plant in 1548, but by 1551 he had heard of one at Hampton Court Palace. Gerard said it was to be found in the gardens "of such as love rare and dainty plants".

The appreciation of the early acid-yellow flowers is largely a 20th-century development.


The following cultivars have gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (confirmed 2017):

  • ’Aurea’ (yellow leaves and flowers, red fruit)
  • 'Golden Glory' (profuse yellow flowers, shiny red berries)
  • ’Variegata’ (variegated leaves, glossy red fruit)


Media related to Cornus mas at Wikimedia Commons



WWW info

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Leaf size Leaf shape Leaf edge Twig Bark Height Seed Seed shell Flower Flower type Type
Leaf size  < 5 cm      Leaf shape  normal      Leaf edge  smooth  Twig  opposite   Bark  smooth Height  < 5 m Seed Seed shell  soft Flower Flower type  roset Type  Deciduous
< 5 cm normal smooth opposite smooth < 5 m soft roset Deciduous
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