For early spring bloom, there is no better plant than this excellent little dogwood from Eastern Europe. It is the perfect edible ornamental for gardeners in zones 5 through 8. (Though it's hardy into zone 4, flower buds may be killed in some seasons.) Now there are several especially large-fruited cultivars available. They were developed at a research station in the Ukraine and recently made their debut in the U.S., thanks to the One Green World nursery in Oregon.
Cornelian cherries are small deciduous trees or large shrubs, reaching about 20 feet. In winter they display two-toned exfoliating bark. Before the forsythias bloom, the plants cover themselves in a haze of small bright yellow flowers. In late summer or early fall, the large red fruits are an enticing sight. They are also delicious, reminiscent of tart cherries. In Eastern Europe, cornelian cherries are a minor commercial crop, eaten fresh or made into juice, syrup and jam. Ordinarily, the oblong fruit are cherry-sized about 3/4 inch in diameter. But the new varieties from One Green World -- 'Elegant', 'Helen', 'Pioneer', and 'Redstar' -- are about twice that size and look like small bright red plums. The trees are self-pollinating, meaning that you need only one to set fruit, but you'll get bigger crops with a cross-pollinator.
For more information, contact One Green World, Box 1080, Molalla, OR 97038.
Photo courtesy of Cornell University