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Cornus officinalis is often confused with:
Cornus mas Cornus mas
Native alternative(s) for Cornus officinalis:
Cornus racemosa Close up of flowers
Plants that fill a similar niche:
Cornus mas Cornus mas
Cornus kousa Cornus kousa
Cornus sericea Cornus sericea red stem

Chinese Cornelian Dogwood Cornus officinalis

Previously known as:

  • Cornus officinalis var. koreana
  • Macrocarpium officinale
Phonetic Spelling
KOR-nus oh-fiss-ih-NAH-liss
Description

The Japanese Cornelian Dogwood is a deciduous large shrub or small tree that is picturesque and multi-stemmed. It has low branches with an open oval to round habit. Yellow flowers bloom in late winter to early spring before the leaves emerge. Red fruits appear in the fall and are attractive to birds. The grayish-brown and exfoliating bark adds interest to a winter garden. 

The Japanese Cornelian Dogwood is native to North Central and Southeastern China. It has been introduced in Japan and Korea. It is typically found in forests, forest margins, and mountains slopes.

The genus name, Cornus, is Latin from the word, cornu, which means "horn." This references the hardness of the wood. The species name, officinalis, means "sold in shops." This references the plant's use, supposedly, as a medicine. The plant has several other common names including Japanese Cornel, Korean Cornelian Dogwood, and Chinese Cornelian Dogwood. 

It prefers acidic well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade, but protection from the hot summer afternoon sun.   It can be challenging to find in the nursery trade but it is easy to transplant when young. 

The leaves are dull green on the upper surface. The undersides are a lighter green and may have tufts of reddish-brown hairs along the veins, The flowers appear as yellow clusters or umbels. The red drupes are ellipsoid in shape and contain a stone. 

The Japanese Cornelian Dogwood makes a great flowering tree with showy edible fruits. It works well in a woodland garden or naturalized area. Grown as a shrub you can use it as a foundation planting. border, or a hedge.

The fruits are attractive to birds and plants provide nesting sites. Members of the genus Cornus support the following specialized bees: Andrena (Gonandrena) fragilisAndrena (Gonandrena) Integraand Andrena (Gonandrena) platyparia.

The Japanese Cornelian Dogwood is similar to the Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas).  The Japanese Cornelian Dogwood flowers earlier, the fruits ripen later, reddish-brown tufts of hair in the leaf veins, and the exfoliating bark is more attractive.

Seasons of Interest:   

Foliage:  Fall       Bloom:  Spring      Fruit:  Fall      Bark:  Winter

Quick ID Hints:

  • Grayish-brown exfoliating bark
  • Clusters of yellow blooms in late winter and early spring
  • Dull green leaves on the upper surface, lower surface lighter green with tufts of reddish-brown hairs along the veins
  • Small, bright, red fruits in the fall

Insects, Diseases, and Other Problems:  No serious insect or disease problems.  Suckering can be weedy, so promptly remove them to avoid spread.

 

 

 

See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Kintoki'
    Smaller than the species, has heavy flowering
  • 'Spring Glow'
    Low broad tree yellow flowers red fruits and good fall color
'Kintoki', 'Spring Glow'
Tags:
#deciduous#small tree#interesting bark#shrub#wildlife plant#yellow flowers#weedy#deciduous shrub#nectar plant#cover plant#gray bark#fall interest#flowering tree#showy fruits#hedges#specialized bees#multistemmed#deer resistant#foundation planting#red fruits#edible fruits#pollinator plant#naturalized area#glossy fruits#nesting sites#deciduous tree#exfoliating bark#bird friendly#winter flowers#flowers late winter#bee friendly#shrub borders#woodland garden
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Kintoki'
    Smaller than the species, has heavy flowering
  • 'Spring Glow'
    Low broad tree yellow flowers red fruits and good fall color
'Kintoki', 'Spring Glow'
Tags:
#deciduous#small tree#interesting bark#shrub#wildlife plant#yellow flowers#weedy#deciduous shrub#nectar plant#cover plant#gray bark#fall interest#flowering tree#showy fruits#hedges#specialized bees#multistemmed#deer resistant#foundation planting#red fruits#edible fruits#pollinator plant#naturalized area#glossy fruits#nesting sites#deciduous tree#exfoliating bark#bird friendly#winter flowers#flowers late winter#bee friendly#shrub borders#woodland garden
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Cornus
    Species:
    officinalis
    Family:
    Cornaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    The fruit is used in Chinese medicine. In China, the fruit is known as "Zhu yu" or "Zao pi." The fruit is made into a tonic, and it may be prescribed for the treatment of impotence, lumbago, vertigo, and night sweats.
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    North Central and Southeast China
    Distribution:
    Native: North Central and Southeast China; Introduced: Japan and Korea
    Wildlife Value:
    The fruits attract birds.
    Play Value:
    Attractive Flowers
    Colorful
    Textural
    Edibility:
    Fruits are edible but astringent so may be best left for the birds.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 15 ft. 0 in. - 30 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 15 ft. 0 in. - 25 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Edible
    Shrub
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Multi-stemmed
    Open
    Oval
    Rounded
    Spreading
    Growth Rate:
    Medium
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    High Organic Matter
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Available Space To Plant:
    12-24 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    5b, 5a, 6b, 6a, 7b, 7a, 8b, 8a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Purple/Lavender
    Red/Burgundy
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Edible
    Showy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Type:
    Drupe
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The fruit is a drupe that is red to purplish-red and appears in the fall. It is ellipsoid in shape and measures about 1/4 inch long and 1/8 inch wide. The fruits are edible but are very astringent. Each drupe contains an ellipsoid shaped stone.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Umbel
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Petals:
    4-5 petals/rays
    Bracts
    Flower Description:
    A cluster of short-stalked, yellow flowers with 4 drooping bracts on naked stems in late winter to early spring before leaf out.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Purple/Lavender
    Red/Burgundy
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Opposite
    Leaf Shape:
    Elliptical
    Lanceolate
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Description:
    Each leaf measures from 2 to 4 inches long and 1 to 1.5 inches wide. The upper surface of the leaf is dull green and has entire margins. The undersides of the leaf are a lighter green and sometimes have tufts of reddish-brown hairs in the axils veins. The leaves appear opposite and ovate to elliptic or ovate to lanceolate. Fall color is variable from dull yellow to attractive reddish-purple.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Dark Brown
    Dark Gray
    Orange
    Surface/Attachment:
    Exfoliating
    Bark Description:
    The exfoliating bark is grayish-brown. The winter buds are terminal or axillary and solitary or associated with a flower bud.
  • Stem:
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Naturalized Area
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Edible Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Winter Garden
    Design Feature:
    Border
    Flowering Tree
    Foundation Planting
    Hedge
    Screen/Privacy
    Small Tree
    Specimen
    Understory Tree
    Attracts:
    Pollinators
    Songbirds
    Specialized Bees
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Problems:
    Weedy