in bloom now: oh-so-sunny cornus mas

rhubarb-2012-gardenHELLO, SUNSHINE–AND NOT JUST IN THE SKY. Cornus mas is an increasingly vibrant cloud of gold up on my hillside the last week. This easy shrub is also known as the Cornelian cherry, though it’s actually a dogwood—oh, don’t get me started on the uselessness of common names. Instead of forsythia, I grow Cornus mas (more on it here) and some other yellow earlybirds instead, the rest of which should be reporting for duty in a week or so. Meantime, I’m basking in this beauty.

  1. Sharon says:

    I agree that forsythia is over-used, especially in the harsher color and spikier growth habits. BUT, there is a softer yellow – somewhere between butter and lemon, that blooms near me in a woodland edge that blooms more sparsely in its location, drifting over a wall – it is so delicate, it reminds me of a Japanese painting. And nothing would make me happier than to force a few of those delicate branches to rush spring indoors here in barren Chicagoland, That joy alone would earn that particular cultivar a spot in my garden.

  2. Delores says:

    Tell me again why forsythia is on the dog list? I actually think it is quite beautiful as one of the first blooms in spring – why don’t you like it?

  3. Amy says:

    It’s curious, but sometimes our love for a plant has little to do with the plant itself. When I was a child, my Mom always cut forsythia branches three weeks before Easter and brought them inside. So I still associate forsythia with good things — holiday, vacation, special foods, family.
    Still, I admit cornus mas is lovely — much more delicate and unusual. Definitely worth seeking.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Delores. That’s just me being persnickety; it’s a plenty good plant. I think that where I grew up it was SO overused that I grew sick of it. My other objection, however, is that it doesn’t have any other attribute but its flowers: no wildlife interest (no fruit, etc.), not a great appearance all season long (just plain green and a big rangy) and not the best fall color or anything, either. So I am just asking for a doubleheader or tripleheader of enjoyment from most plants here. Like I said, I’m just persnickety. :) See you soon, I hope.

      IMPORTANT FIX: Thankfully, an alert reader emailed me to say I’d erroneously called Cornus mas a native shrub, when in fact it is naturalized. I made the fix above, and will correct it for people in the next newsletter, too. I was thinking of my “other” favorite forsythia alternative, Lindera, which will be along soon. Silly me. Thankfully, you are all so sharp and make a good safety net!

  4. Jane says:

    I ripped out all the forsythia left over from the previous owner – there’s so much of it around that I didn’t need to give up precious space for something I see everywhere in the spring and which tends to be so unruly. But I did put in abeliophllum, sometimes called white forsythia, as a harbinger of spring. Right now in zone 5 across the river, the witch hazel has finished, the snowdrops are still around, the helebores are having a SPECTACULAR season, the abeliophyllum is almost fully out and, of course, my rose-crazed husband is also out – in his rain suit uncovering the roses – got to carch this week’s rain and upcoming heat wave.

  5. commonweeder says:

    Cornus mas, or cornelian cherry this is a beautiful small tree in bloom. I first saw it blooming at Mt. Auburn cemetery in Boston and think it is an underused plant. Arnold witch hazel is another small tree that gives brilliant yellow bloom in the early spring. There are some forsythia bushes at my house, left by a previous owner, but they never bloom, but it is impossible to get rid of them.

  6. Why not both? Cornus mas looks like a good one for the edge of my own woods, and forsythia holds its own in the garden by the house where it has been for 20-odd yrs. I did cut it way back a couple of years ago, and reduced its footprint from some 25′ across to a more manageable 10′, but it is beautiful still. But now I am going to be searching out cornus mas–and if my husband wants to know why, I’ll tell him it was all your fault! Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Sandra. Both is good. :) There are some gigantic, very old forsythia just down the country road from me, remnants of an abandoned farm from the mid-1900s, and I can see them from my garden — borrowed scenery! So I guess I have both forsythias and non-forsythias. Good point. See you soon!

  7. maria says:

    The forsythia bushes out back are getting ready for their 15 minutes of fame/shame. Can’t say they aren’t welcomed. The dappled sun and woodland setting are just right for them here. My husband disagrees and we’re getting ready for our yearly battle.

  8. Carol P says:

    Another valuable dogwood species is Pagoda Dogwood. The flowers aren’t showy buy I love the layered branches and fall color. I got lucky with my seedling grown specimen, purchased at Sylvania Natives a native plant nursery plunked on a hillside in urban Pittsburgh! The bark is smooth and deep burgundy and the leaves emerge with the same reddish color before they turn green.

    Still dealing with the chickweed that you correctly id’d for me last week!

  9. Tedb says:

    Cornus mas is a favorite of mine too – along with abeliophylum. Neither is quite open here in Wisconsin yet. Common names have their problems but scientific names aren’t any better. Just wait until they split Cornus into 4 genera – officinalis and mas in one, florida and kousa in another, sericea and sanguinea in a third, with the last being alternifolia and controversa. Hopefully the names will be more memorable then what they came up with for the poor asters.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Tedb. Yes, the mum mess was just that: a mess. I just gave up. And what about poor Coleus (Solenestemon, heaven help us all)? Ugh. Glad to “meet” you and don’t be a stranger.

  10. Alisa says:

    I’m fond of the native northern spice bush (Lindera benzoin). I have two of them planted at the back of my yard and the yellow bloom catches my eye when I look from my window. The blossoms look like yellow frilly tufts and it is blooming now here in Maryland. If you scrape one of the twigs it releases a pleasant fragrance.

  11. Caroline says:

    Hi, Margaret, a little late to this party but I wondered what you thought about kerria? It has bright green stems in winter (at least here in zone 7 VA) and its yellow blossoms are gorgeous right now. I’m thinking of grubbing out the little forsythia next to it and getting two more kerrias to fill in.

  12. Linda says:

    Please can you tell me why my cornus 3year old mass has never flowered. It looks healthy ,I have heavy clay soil but keep mulching every year .

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Linda. It’s usually listed as “easy” with no pest or disease troubles or other obstacles, so that makes me think of the most common reasons any flowering shrubs fails to bloom: insufficient light (too shady a spot); improper pruning (that removed the flower buds); too much Nitrogen fertilizer (you get lots of healthy foliage but sometimes it can be at the expense of blooming). I suppose too young is another possibility when things fail to bloom…but it doesn’t sound like a tiny young thing.

      I don’t know if your heavy soil would make it sulk. Again, everywhere I have ever read about it makes no mention of any fussiness.

  13. Peter Gateley says:

    Our Cornus mas is flowering exceptionally well this season here in coastal Northwest England. Today I did a lot of gardening but first tried to hunt down the small animal or bird that must have crept into a corner and died during the colder part of Winter, leaving an unpleasant whiff around our back door. However I could not track down any small corpse but suddenly realised that the smell was the Cornus mas flowers! I have just been Googling and find that they are described on many sites as ‘fragrant’, well ours smells very unpleasant, but does not put me off the powder-puffs of small yellow flowers, surely others have noticed this unpleasant smell?

    1. margaret says:

      So interesting, Peter, and now I have just read every paper I can online on C. mas and no mention of a bad smell! I don’t know enough about fragrance molecules and whether weather conditions can make them smell different to us or what, but very odd!

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