Living in the temperate climate, we sometimes can’t grow fruit trees to give us the flavors we crave. Sure, we have a great selection of regional fruits: apples, pears, peaches, plums and all those delicious cherries. But, in a world where mangos, pineapples and bananas are commonplace, it’s hard to go all the way local and miss out entirely on the tropics.

Luckily, even for locavores, giving up the tropical tastes doesn’t have to be the case. There are some temperate trees that produce flavors reminiscent of the tropics. Kousa dogwoods, also known as Korean dogwoods or Japanese flowering dogwoods, produce delectable little fruits that appear to be mutant raspberries and have a taste akin to blended banana, mango and peach.

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Most of the time, Korean dogwoods are simply overlooked as a food source. It’s time to change that. The fruits, when picked at the right time, are a wonderful treat.

Dogwood white flowers

Source: Lorianne DiSabato/Flickr

Plant Profile

Kousa dogwoods, Cornus kousa, are small trees that grow to be roughly 25 feet tall and wide. They are not uncommon in the US, but they’ve largely been cultivated for ornamental purposes. That said, the trees, which have been stateside since the mid-late 1800s, have naturalized in New York. These days Korean dogwoods are getting a little more attention as a landscaping plant because they are resistant to a fungal disease that’s decimating local dogwood species.

Fortunately for those of us looking to grow food, unlike local dogwoods, Korean dogwoods supply an impressive harvest of fruit. Also, they put on an impressive floral display in the springtime, and it lasts much longer than native dogwoods. Plus, they are revered for mottled bark on the trunk and larger branches as the tree ages.

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Plant Placement

The kousa dogwood is fairly cold-tolerant and can withstand a bit of swelter to boot. It’s recommended from USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5 (think New York or Chicago) through 8b (think Atlanta or Dallas). In other words, the bulk of the contiguous United States is friendly environs for the Korean dogwood.

Like most productive trees, kousa dogwoods prefer full sun and well-drained soil, but they will tolerate partial shade. The soil pH is best if mildly acidic, which most temperate soils are, with plenty of nutrients. They are drought-tolerant once established, but a two-inch layer of mulch will help to keep soils moist.

Fun with Flowers and Fruit

Kousa dogwoods fruit

Source: Peter Turner Photography/Shutterstock

Korean dogwoods put on amazing floral displays in the spring. Most of them have white “flowers,” which are actually bracts (modified leaves) that call attention to rather small, greenish flowers. For some point of reference, other plants with bracts rather than flowers include poinsettia and bougainvillea. There are also varieties of kousa dogwood with pink bracts. All that said, in terms of appearance, i.e. for the non-botanist, these bracts are lovely flowers.

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As the bracts begin to fade, the fruit starts to take over the tree, and an entirely new colorful display occurs. Kousa dogwood fruits begin as little green berry-like objects that are simply everywhere on the tree. As they mature, they go from pinkish to a deep red. Inside, however, the fruits are yellowish-orange. The ideal time to eat them is in the fall, starting around August and into October, after the fruit softens, when it seems nearly done for. The fruit has tough skin but gooey interior and is best eaten fresh, though it is sometimes used to make jams as well.

Why Grow a Korean Dogwood?

Korean dogwoods are worth growing, as has already been established, for their ornamental properties alone. The trees provide a multitude of enjoyable colors, from flowers to fruit to foliage, throughout the year. The trees are also small enough to fit in most yards but large enough to provide shade for a picnic blanket or small patio. They are pest-, disease- and deer-resistant as well, which makes them low-maintenance, yet another tick in the plus column.

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In terms of productivity, as we try to convert our lawns into food forests and gardens, it’s fantastic to have trees like this, which are accepted as ornamentals but are powerhouses of production. The kousa dogwood will delight and entice neighbors with its beauty, and at the same time, it will provide treats for the family. It’s a sort of gateway tree, slowly converting those lawn lovers into edible landscapers.

Korean dogwoods are easy to find in nurseries or to order online, and they are best planted in spring.

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