Paul’s Plant Pick: Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is ready to shine

When one thinks of yellow, spring- flowering shrubs in the garden, plants such as Witchhazel (Hamamelis) and Forsythia come to mind. A lesser-known and seldom-seen beauty is Cornus mas, the Cornelian cherry, best described as a large, multi-stemmed shrub or small tree. You can come across a number of specimens of this wonderful plant throughout the gardens at the Toronto Botanical Garden. For example, Cornelian cherries are interplanted with the sculptural, caged beech trees in the Arrival Courtyard. In Nature’s Garden, there is a lesser-known, golden selection — Cornus mas ‘Aurea’ — just about to come into bloom. A more mature stand in the Woodland Walk and Bird Habitat is equally ready to put on a wonderful show of beautiful yellow blossoms, combined with redbuds (Cercis canadensis), a small tree with brilliant pink flowers, which is another favourite of mine. Look for the unique variegated Cornelian cherry growing along one of the paths in the President’s Choice show garden. Until its showy, developing fruit begins to ripen, boldly variegated creamy white-and-green leaves follow the spring blossoms and provide a colourful, eye-catching display.

Cornus mas produces an abundance of relatively large, coffee-like berries (properly referred to as a drupe) that ripen to a cherry-red colour in mid to late summer. Much loved by birds, this fruit is also used for making preserves and syrup in southern Europe, Armenia, Iran and southwest Asia , where the plant is native. The current cool spring weather should ensure a long-flowering display from the many specimens in our gardens. Look for them on your next visit. Happy hunting!

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