Cornelian Cherry, Cornus Mas
True, it’s not actually a cherry, but this tasty little fruit has its own delicious appeal.
- Cold hardiness zones: 4 – 8 (Can withstand cold down to -30° F, or -34° C)i
- Soil PH: 5.0 – 8.0ii
- Watering needs: Average, does okay in damp soil, but doesn’t like sopping wet soil. Fairly drought tolerant (for short periods) once establishediii
- Blooming Season: Early spring
- Harvest season: Fall
- Fruiting age: 4 – 5 years,iv though some sources suggest it can be up to 15. Be aware, its first flowering often does not produce fruit, but future years should.
- Average mature yield: 24 – 40 lbs fruit/year.v
- Pollination for Fruit: A cornelian cherry will produce fruit without another nearby, but it will produce more with a second plant, especially if it’s a different variety, or another cornelian cherry grown from seed.vi
- Size at maturity: 15 – 20 feet tall and wide (4.5 – 6 meters), though some varieties stay closer to 5 foot by 5 foot, or 1.5 meters tall and wide.
- Sun needs: Full sun to part shade (Prefers full sun, but can tolerate full shade)vii
- Preferred habitat: A nice, cool slightly damp, sunny forest edge (doesn’t like places with heat and high humidity combined)viii
- Growth rate (vigor): Moderate. Growth starts slow for the first couple years, and then picks up, eventually to about 2 feet of growth per year.ix
- Natural reproductive rate (and methods): Low (seeds can take up to two winters to sprout)
- Propagation method: Greenwood cuttings in summer,x or winter hardwood branch cuttings placed in moist soil.xi Seeds can be “tricked” into two stratification periods in one year by placing them 4 months in freezer, then four months in a warm location, and then four month in freezer again. Seeds can then be planted directly or in pots to get them started. This whole process can sometimes by bypassed by a careful nicking of the seed to allow moisture in.xii
- Average life span: 60xiii – 150 years
- Plant family: Cornaceae (dogwood family)
The cornelian cherry tree is like a fireball of beautiful yellow blossoms in the early spring, inviting in those early pollinators to give your forest garden a jumpstart. Because of this, as well as its red and orange leaves in the fall, the tree is usually bought for its ornamental value. But to the food forester, it’s superpower is in its fruit.
The taste of the cornelian cherry fruit has been described in many ways. Descriptions include, “cherries mixed with cooked rhubarb,” “a cross between tart cherries and cranberries,”xiv and “A plum-like flavour and texture.”xv They can be eaten fresh, made into jams, jellies, and syrup, or baked into muffins, cookies, cakes, and cheesecake.
If the fruit tastes particularly tart or astringent when you try it, it probably simply means it’s not yet ripe.
The seeds are sometimes collected and roasted, and then used as a coffee substitute.
One trick for harvesting cornelian cherries is to place blankets under the tree once the fruit is ripe, and then gently shake the tree to get the fruits to fall.
The tree’s tendency to grow slowly at first and then fast later may be a contributing factor in making its beautiful wood, which tends to be very dense and dark at the center, and then lighter with the outer rings. Perhaps this is also why the wood is so dense that it sinks in water.xvi