Depending on the weather, it's not unusual for the clusters of tiny yellow flowers of this large shrub (or small tree, depending upon how it's managed) to open the better part of a month before the way-overplanted forsythia all across upstate New York - in some years as early as the last week or so in March!
Native to southern Europe and Eurasia, Corneliancherry (Cornus mas) is a true dogwood, and therefore closely related to our native gray, redtwig and pagoda dogwoods - as well as the flowering dogwood and increasingly popular Kousa dogwood trees. Unlike flowering dogwood, however, this plant will grow almost anywhere you might plant it - except for spots where the soil is constantly damp to wet.
It was probably first cultivated for it's late summer bounty of juicy, bright red fruit, at left. While they're not particularly tasty when eaten right off the plant, they've reportedly been used for making preserves and syrups. And, while we may not enjoy the fresh fruit, birds certainly do! It's just too bad the olive-sized fruit are hidden by leaves as they ripen, otherwise, there's no doubt this plant would much more common in landscape settings.
Because of it's "shrubby," multiple-stemmed habit, corneliancherry is generally classified as a shrub. However, it's hardly small and can, in fact, grow twenty feet tall with a similar spread over the course of fifteen to twenty years! The row of mature corneliancherry, at right, are located in Burnet Park in Syracuse, and are likely forty to fifty years old.
The most common cultivated variety (cultivar) of corneliancherry is `Golden Glory,' which is reported to be more upright growing than the species. There are also at least two variegated forms according to the literature, but I've never seen either of them and they're quite difficult to track down in commerce.
While the the ornamental traits of corneliancherry will never stop traffic, its early spring flowers and tough-as-nails constitution will put this plant on my recommended list every time!