Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas)

 

Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas). Frome, 25 August 2020.


Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas)... Native to southern Europe (including most of France). Introduced to the British Isles back in the 16th century and sometimes found in the wild. 

Here, it's part of a fairly recent planting in a Frome public space (known as "the Dippy"), where it grows alongside the native shrub Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea). 

The two relatives look a bit similar, but are easily distinguished in spring (Cornelian Cherry has yellow flowers, Dogwood has white flowers) and at berry time (Cornelian Cherry has big red berries, Dogwood has small black ones). The leaves of Cornelian Cherry are a bit smaller than Dogwood, more narrowly pointed, and tougher in texture. Both leaf and leaf-stalk are usually strongly keeled (i.e. they won't lie flat). The twigs of Cornelian Cherry are rather robust compared with the slender shoots of Dogwood. (I've added a photo of Dogwood near the end of this post.)

The elongated "cherries" of Cornus mas are edible. Most of the berries shown in these photos would still taste a bit sour. When truly ripe they turn a deeper shade of red. They are then a fresh-tasting, rather delicious berry containing an elongate stone, attractively patterned with four veins. (If you pick an unripe one, take it indoors and it'll be ripe in a few hours.)

But do check you've got the right tree! Cornelian Cherry ripens around the end of August. You wouldn't want to be eating e.g. the winter-time berries of Japanese Laurel (Aucuba japonica), which are extremely bitter and also somewhat toxic. 

In southern Europe Cornelian Cherry fruit is much used for jams, in liqueurs, etc. 

Older sources say that the fruit rarely ripens in the UK. But the warmer climate is changing that, and I've seen plenty of fruit in each of the two summers since I first noticed these trees. 


Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas). Frome, 25 August 2020.



Cornus mas is the cornel (cornum) of classical poetry. It appears as a food:

On wildings and on strawberries they fed;
Cornels and bramble-berries gave the rest . . .

(Ovid's description of the Golden Age, see Metamorphoses I.105)

Autumnal cornels next in order serv'd
In lees of wine well pickled, and preserv'd . . .

(Philemon and Baucis, see Metamorphoses 8.668)

And it also appears as the traditional wood used for spear-shafts:

whether with strong arm you hurl the pliant shaft, your gallant arm draws my regard upon itself, or whether you grasp the broad-headed cornel hunting-spear. 

(Phaedra to Hippolytus, see Heroides 4.83)

[The wood of Cornus mas is exceptionally dense and hard, useful for the shafts of tools and weapons. It sinks in water.]


The names Cornelius and Cornelia derive from the senior Roman patrician family, the Cornelii. I'd like to think they took their family name from this tree, just as, according to Pliny, the Fabii took theirs from the bean faba. But I've not found anyone else suggesting this. 


Fallen "cherries" of Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas). Frome, 25 August 2020.


Fallen "cherries" and stones of Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas). Frome, 25 August 2020.


Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas). Frome, 25 August 2020.



Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas). Frome, 25 August 2020.


Winter buds of Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas). Frome, 18 January 2021.


Cornelian Cherry in winter has a distinctively bobbly appearance, with round winter buds.


Winter buds of Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas). Frome, 18 January 2021.

Blossoms of Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas). Frome, 25 March 2021.



Blossoms of Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas). Frome, 25 March 2021.


Emerging leaves of Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas). Frome, 25 March 2021.



Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea). Swindon, 27 August 2020.


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