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Cornus capitata Wall.

Bentham's Cornel

Modern name

Cornus capitata Wall.


Benthamia fragifera Lindl.; Dendrobenthamia capitata (Wall.) Hutch; Benthamidia capitata (Wall.) Hara

An evergreen tree 30 to 40 or more ft high, of bushy habit, and, if allowed to develop without interference by other trees, wider than it is high; young shoots clad with flattened, grey down. Leaves leathery, opposite, narrow- to broad-elliptic, tapered at both ends; 2 to 5 in. long, 34 to 134 in. wide; dull grey-green covered densely on both surfaces with minute flattened hairs; stalk 14 to 34 in. long. Flowers minute, inconspicuous, crowded in a hemispherical mass 12 in. across. The beauty of the inflorescence is in the four or six sulphur-yellow bracts that subtend the true flowers; these are obovate, 112 to 2 in. long, 34 to 112 in. wide. Fruit a fleshy, strawberry-shaped, agglomerated crimson mass, 1 to 112 in. across, in which many seeds are imbedded. Bot. Mag., t. 4641.

Introduced from the Himalaya in 1825, and a native also of China. It is hopeless to attempt to grow this cornel unprotected near London, although it has lived many years against a wall at Kew, but rarely or never flowers there. One has to go to the Cornish gardens, or those of S.W. Ireland, to see this tree in its full splendour. The finest tree I have seen is at Fota, probably about 40 ft high, and 70 ft in diameter; but there are probably others in Cornwall quite as fine. When covered with pale yellow ‘flowers’, they provide one of the richest ornaments even those favoured gardens can display. In fruit, too, they are objects of great beauty, but often damaged by birds. The ‘flowers’ are at their best in June and July, and the fruits in October and November.

To the preceding, written in 1934, it may be added that the tree at Fota still exists; it is 36 ft high and the thickest of its many stems is 412 ft in girth (1966). According to the catalogue presented to Kew by the Hon. Mrs Bell, this tree was 20 ft high in 1856 and must therefore certainly date from the original introduction in 1825. At Mount Usher there are two specimens both 47 ft high and about 5 ft in girth. In Britain the easternmost garden where it is known to flourish is Highdown, near Worthing, where there is a tree 22 ft in height raised from Chinese seed imported in 1937. In the Edinburgh Botanic Garden there is a specimen of the same provenance, 14 ft high with a spread of 12 ft. Remarkably for a Himalayan species, C. capitata stands exposure to sea winds very well in the coastal gardens of the west and south-west.



Other species in the genus