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Dogwoods are among the most beautiful trees found in North American landscapes. There are about 15 native species of dogwoods in Canada and the United States. Two species Cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas) and Kousa dogwood (Cornus kausa) are introduced from Europe and East Asia and have earned a place in North American gardens because they are more disease resistant than the native species. Both Cornelian cherry and Kousa dogwoods produce edible fruits.

The Pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) was adopted in 1956 as British Columbia’s floral emblem. The Pacific dogwood is a tree that grows six to eight meters high, and flowers in April and May. In Autumn, it is known for its cluster of bright, edible but bitter red berries and brilliant foliage. It is illegal to pick dogwood flowers in British Columbia.

There is an unusual hybrid or a cross between native Pacific or western dogwood, Cornus nuttallii and the eastern North American species, Cornus florida. The name of the breed is “Eddie White Wonder”; it was bred by H.M. Eddie in the early 1950s. This hybrid plant has beautiful white flowers and magnificent red fall foliage and grows about ten meters high and fifteen meters wide. This plant is resistant to dogwood disease anthracnose. “Eddie’s White Wonder” is Vancouver’s centennial tree.

There are 2 hybrids between Pacific dogwood and Kousa dogwood which have resulted in exceptional varieties: “Starlight” and “Venus”. Both are resistant to anthracnose and mildew diseases. “Starlight” grows about ten meters tall and 5 meters wide, producing a mass of white blooms. “Venus” is a little smaller at six meters tall and five meters wide. Both have stunning fall colours. All the dogwood hybrids cannot produce fruits.

In general the nutritional facts of the dogwood berries per 100 gram serving size has 44 calories with 10 gram carbs (with dietary fiber up to 15%), 0 gram fat, 1 gram protein, minerals (calcium and iron each 1%, potassium 2%), vitamins (A 1%, C 13%), and rich in tannin (tannic acid). In addition, dogwood bark is used as a substitute for quinine as an antimalarial.   

Not many people have ever tasted the dogwood berries. The meaty texture and unique taste of the dogwood berry, particularly Kousa berry, reminds me of the taste of soursop and persimmon; the bitter quinine taste can also be tasted in the dogwood berry.

Information from the clockwise (from the top left) dogwood berries photograph: European dogwood or Cornelian cherry dogwood berries (Cornus mas), Asian dogwood or Kousa dogwood berries (Cornus kousa), eastern dogwood or American dogwood berries (Cornus florida), and western dogwood or Pacific dogwood berries (Cornus nuttallii).

-Bintoro Gunadi