7 x edible shrubs for improving urban biodiversity

2. Cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus Mas)

Cultivated for millennia for its wood and culinary uses, Cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas) might just become your new best friend in the garden. It’s best known for its delicate yellow flowers and edible olive-shaped fruit, both of which are equally cherished by people and wildlife alike. In the Netherlands, it’s rare in the wild, limited to the southernmost parts of the country. 

When the garden starts to awake from the cold in early spring, the blossoming of Cornus Masis eagerly awaited – especially for the bumblebees as it’s one of their first food sources available after the long winter. Masses of fine bright yellow clusters of flowers covering this bushy shrub or small tree bring an instant cheer, especially on sunny days when the yellow blooms contrast strikingly with the deep blue sky. An added bonus is that it blooms for several weeks, meaning more time to enjoy this stunning shrub.

Cornus mas is also the host plant for moths including Eupoecilia ambiguellaand Antispila treitschkiella, -metallellaand –petryi. While moths aren’t as prominent as butterflies, they’re important as pollinators and a food source for birds and other wildlife. 

Like all dogwoods, Cornus masmakes a show of autumn colours when its glossy green leaves turn vibrant shades of burgundy tinged with purple. Look for bunches of ripening elongated ruby red fruit called cornels hiding between the colourful foliage. Birds adore them. When ripe, they’re soft and fall easily off the stalk. Their tartness lends itself well to jams and jellies but surprisingly they can also be brined and eaten like olives. As the pits were used as rosary beads, Cornus masis often found in monastery and cloister gardens. 

Cornus Mas stands the test of time, some growing to be over 100 years old! The Romans called it Cornus, meaning horn. As a tough hardwood, it’s been prized since ancient times particularly for spears, wheel spokes and tool handles but also shepherd’s staffs. 

It’s an easy friend in the garden as a hedge or standalone feature, thriving in sun and partial shade and most soil conditions – although it has a preference for chalky soils. It doesn’t mind drought nor wind and gets on well with most plants making it ideal as part of a diverse urban landscape.