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NOS
CORNUS
ELLIPTICA
(angustata)
PAGE

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Copyright 2003-2005. Laurence C. Hatch. All Rights Reserved.
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original tree of 'First Choice'. Raulston Arboretum. Summer 2003. Click image. If you read the cultivar descriptions below you may note they all pretty much have the same reason for being - vigorous, truly evergreen, floriferous, rootable, and more cold hardy. Trials of these are ongoing various places and we suspect that some regions will come to prefer one over another.

Note the very long peduncles (flower stalks) in this photo. This is one way to tell the thing from C. capitata but also serves horticulturally to make the flowers "pop" from under the foliage. That is a species plus here. However, C. elliptica does not (as I write this May 2005) yet give us the bright orange and purple new growth of C. capitata. We hope someone can combine the best of each sometime and still preserve the dark, crisp winter green foliage.  LCH.

This remarkable cousin of Cornus kousa (formerly called var. angustata) is correctly a distinct species. The late Dr. Ted Dudley, taxonomist at the US National Arboretum, wrote to this effect and felt the best, oldest, valid name was Cornus angustata. Stlll nurserymen are going with it the wrong old way. It is a flowering arborescent dogwood that is evergreen to semi-evergreen depending on one's climate. As seen here at the Raulston Arboretum, this magnificent species has thick, dark green leaves that feel and look very substantial. They retain some of the arcuate, textured venation of the deciduous species.

Since the work of Dudley and others, the Flora of China has been published for the Cornaceae with substantial, original revisions to the species concepts that demand our attention and respect. Specifically this work is cited as:

Xiang, Q.Y. and D.E. Boufford. 2005. Cornaceae. Flora of China: 14: 206-221. Harvard University.

The formal and correct new name for this evergreen entity is now:

Cornus elliptica (Pojarkova) Q.Y. Xiang & Boufford

It is based on the name Cynoxylon ellipticum of Pojarkova published in 1950 (gender ending adjusted ), the oldest known good epithet at the species level. The epithet angustata AT THE SPECIFIC (SPECIES) LEVEL is more recent and thus excluded. It has been somewhat controversial in taxonomy to rename plants based on older names coined by Russian authors whose works were not until recently known in the West (among them Dr. Dudley and the entire western Cornus-loving community) and may not quality as worldwide publication by botanical standards. That point noted, we feel that the uniformly high quality of Drs. Xiang and Boufford work (together with rigorous Harvard review standards) to merit faith in their decisions and go with them. In general, I like to always use the names of country or region's authoritative flora unless some more recent paper present more compelling and fresh evidence to the contrary. Go with the Floras of China, North America, and Europe whenever you can.

Compared to Cornus kousa var. chinensis, the bracts immediately differ from the Kousa in being much narrower, rarely overlapping, and quite acuminately pointed. In this example they are very small with a diameter of the entire inflorescence of only 2 inches or less. The central, globose cluster of true flowers stands out like it was glued on for decoration. It is a very appealing flower from any distance.


Distance view of the same tree above.
The species is less cold hardy than C. kousa at USDA 7 and perhaps some of zone 6. Claims of zone 5 reported in places seem doubtful as no evidence has been brought. It gets some odd winter discoloration in some areas and wind damage. 'Prodigy' (see below) reportedly has no odd winter tints of red and purple shades. A bit of protection and shade for young plants is a good idea. Heat tolerance is reported as being good and perhaps this is the equivalent of Cercis canadensis subsp. texensis (mexicana) for the dogwood world.

You can see from this photo is less floriferous than your average modern, improved Kousa cultivar. That is not a bad thing I think. The balance of the dark, leathery leaf and the pale bracts should be maintained at around 50:50. That dark, textured background has a great foil for these refined little stars.

It should be noted that Cornus elliptica is more similar to C. capitata than the C. kousa in any of it's deciduous phases. There are wild intermediates between C. elliptica and C. capitata but it is not yet known if they are hybrids or just little known links in what could become one larger species concept. DNA work will have to be done on the wild taxa before we can lock down either species to a degree we now find necessary. Using the characters in the key by Jenny Xiang and David Boufford we can construct this chart:

TRAIT CORNUS ELLIPTICA CORNUS CAPITATA
Peduncle thickness thin thick
Peduncle length 5 - 8 (10) cm 2 - 3 (5) cm
Infructescence shape near perfect globose compressed or flattened globose
Leaf veins below not pitted often pitted
New foliage color light green to greenish-purple as cultivated (to date) many seedlings rich orange to purple shades, especially in garden clones

 

LCH

 

Cornus
elliptica

EMPRESS OF CHINA

'Elsbry'
(11/3)

ht, ha: distinctly vigorous, growing to 4m tall in 10-12 years. Seedlings are usually much slower.
ld: evergreen (as species)
lc: dark green, holding color better than seedlings in winter
bt: 2-3 weeks after C. kousa, also much longer than that species
fq: often blooms on young plants (2 years)
or: John Elsley SC USA found 1993 as seedling in Greenwood SC USA
dr: anthracnose resistant
prop: cuttings root up to 80% but grafting on C. kousa and C. florida established large trees quickly.
ch: USDA 6 - more cold hardy as USDA 7 is required for most species seedlings
pat: US applied for 9/25/03 by originator

 

Cornus
elliptica
'First Choice'
ha: uniform as it is vegetatively propagated, more vigorous than most seedlings
lc: evergreen in winter, holding color well in southeastern US, not showy purple winter tints.
fq: more floriferous than some seedlings
prop: cuttings root well
ch: more cold hardy than other seedlings
or: JC Raulston c. 1990 as the best of numerous seedlings received as seed from China mid 1980's.

 

Cornus
elliptica
PRODIGY

'Ticm'
ha: uniform
lc: evergreen in winter - lacking the odd tints of some seedlings
fq: more floriferous than some seedlings
or: Tree Introductions of Athens GA