European Cornel or Cornelian-cherry dogwood; Cornus mas. Mediterranean. This is a large shrub or small tree, usually multi-stemmed with sturdy upright stems and slender twigs. The young twigs are striking green in winter. Older trees have flaking bark and a very wide canopy. In winter, the many round flower buds are clearly visible. In February and March they grow into small yellow flowers, most of them are male, before the leaves appear. Small red fruits, which attract birds, appear in mid summer.


Trees, then, form an important part of the literary tradition of the Greeks and Romans. Not limited solely to creative literature, however, trees are extensively incorporated into the culture on many levels. One example of this can be seen in the case of the cornel-cherry cornus. The fruit of the tree, in modern taxonomy Cornus mas, is edible and in a number of literary contexts symbolizes the simple life of the just and a return to the lost virtues of an earlier time. For example, it reappears in Ovid's Metamorphoses (8.665), as part of the humble fare of Baucis and Philemon who entertain the gods Jupiter and Mercury in their rustic home. Horace also mentions the fruit as part of a description of his Sabine farm (Epistles 1.16.7-8), and Homer describes how it is combined with acorns as food for swine in the Circe episode of the Odyssey (10.242-3).

The wood of the cornel-cherry, on the other hand, often has connections with war and weaponry. The historian Herodotus claims that the bows of the Lycians were made of the wood, and Pausanias reports that the legendary Trojan Horse was constructed of cornel-cherry wood harvested from from the slopes of Mt. Ida (3.13.5). In Latin literature the same associations hold, with Vergil using the very word for the tree (cornus) to represent the spears used in battle scenes in his Aeneid (12.276-68):

The whirring cornel wood gives out its sound, And sure of its course, cuts through the breezes.

From McMahon, John, Trees: Links to the Classical Past, in:

"...broom and cornel, and other shrubs that they did not know. Here and there they saw knots of tall pine-trees. ..." [Back to Herblore]

Blossoms, fruit, tree

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Cornel cherry tree

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