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Kousa Dogwood

Welcome back to Ask a Naturalist: your own personal ‘Google’ for information on all things wild on PEI! I love getting photos of plants to ID, especially when something new to me arrives in my inbox. I was particularly excited when Brenda Boudreau sent me a photo of a plant I’ve always wanted to see, asking what it was. I knew right away that it was Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa), and I had to go see – and taste – it for myself!

Photo 1: Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa) on PEI.

PEI has four native species of Dogwoods: Red Osier (Cornus sericea), Alternate-leaved (C. alternifolia), Round-leaved (C. rugosa), and Bunchberry (C. canadensis, the odd one out, being a ground plant rather than a shrub and not sporting the “Dogwood” moniker). All Dogwoods are easily identified by the distinctive veins of their leaves that arch outward from the midrib to the tip; you can see that pattern in this Kousa Dogwood (Photo 1). Even if I hadn’t recognized this tree, I would have immediately known it was a Dogwood from those leaves.

Kousa Dogwood is native to Asia but commonly planted as an ornamental in the US and parts of Southern Canada. Until seeing this Island specimen, I didn’t know it would grow this far north. It’s usually planted for its “showy flowers”, which are actually anything but! Like our native Bunchberry, Kousa Dogwood has tiny, hard-to-see flowers surrounded by four large white bracts (modified leaves). Those bracts protect the delicate buds during development and later serve to attract pollinators to the inconspicuous blooms.

Photo 2: The unique, edible fruit of Kousa Dogwood.

While this plant may be famous for its foliage, I was more interested in its fruit (Photo 2). Resembling a medieval mace, Kousa Dogwood fruit is distinctive and unlikely to be mistaken for anything else. It does not store or transport well and is only available fresh from the tree, making it a popular treat among foragers where it’s found. I’d heard great things about its flavour and was not disappointed. It tasted like a cross between a sweet apple and a juicy peach – delicious!

The downside is that each aggregate berry contains several very hard seeds among the tasty pulp (Photo 3). This is not a fruit that can be easily processed; I think the only practical option would be to press the berries through a sieve and use the resulting pulp. The usual method of eating it is to pull off the stem, suck out the tasty pulp, and spit out any seeds (so, not something you want to do in an elegant setting!).

Photo 3: Kousa Dogwood fruit is delicious, but hard to eat. Inside each aggregate berry are several hard seeds (top) mixed in with the tasty pulp (bottom). Note for the squeamish: this pulp was not spit out; I squeezed it out with my hand!

I do prefer native plants to exotics, and some people consider Kousa Dogwood to be invasive (though it hasn’t yet made any official invasive species lists). I certainly wouldn’t add it to a natural habitat, but I would consider it for a landscape area where it could be confined, much like other fruit trees (such as apples, peaches, or pears, none of which are native to PEI).

I thank Brenda Boudreau for leading me to this interesting tree and would love to hear from others who have seen Kousa Dogwood on PEI. Feel free to message me or comment below!

If you have a question about PEI’s wild side, it’s likely others do too! So, follow me here or on Facebook, join the conversation, and Ask a Naturalist about PEI untamed!

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