Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Winter Blooming Tree

On this morning's edition of "Garden Talk" on WNOX-FM 100.3, our featured "Plant of the Week" was one I have little experience with, but plan to acquire. I am referring to the Japanese  cornelian cherry and European cornelian cherry. Despite their names, these are both dogwoods, botanically Cornus officinalis and Cornus mas, respectively. The plant pictured in the image is the Japanese variety, C. officinalis, and it blooms just a bit earlier than C. mas. In particular, this specimen--which is growing at UT Gardens and is brilliantly visible to passing drivers along Neyland Drive--is a cultivar developed right here in Knoxville by nurseryman Mike Stansberry of Beaver Creek Nursery. Appropriately, its name is 'Sunsphere.' As you will note it has a short trunk, a rounded shape and literally covers itself with blooms. In these species, the bracts, which are the showy portion of our native dogwoods, are smaller than the yellow flowers. To give you an idea of the size of this plant, the concrete sculpture visible behind it is about 6 feet tall. Maximum height is 12 feet.

The surprising feature of this dogwood is its edible fruit. The "cherries" are 1/2 to 3/4 inch in diameter and should be picked and allowed to ripen off the tree for four or five days before consuming them. Ripened fruit reportedly tastes much like cranberries, and is rich in phytochemicals and anti-oxidants. We concluded in our discussion this morning that they should make excellent jam. The only problem, as with regular cherries, is keeping the birds from getting more fruit than you do.

The cornelian cherries need full to part sun, well-drained but moisture-retentive soil, and little else to thrive in East Tennessee. The spot where this plant is growing is slightly elevated above a drainage swale on the southwest side of the gardens.

Using these dogwoods in the landscape seems like a no-brainer, provided you have room for a smallish tree. They begin the dogwood season at the end of February, provide edible fruit and exhibit fall color ranging from golden yellow to purplish red. Given that they are carefree once established, these trees should be more widely used in our area.

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