Cornus capitata: A Fragrant Evergreen Tree from the Himalayas
Background and Family
Cornus capitata, also known as Benthamidia fragifera, Benthamidia capitata, Headed-flowered Dogwood, Himalayan Evergreen Dogwood, Bentham’s cornel, or Himalayan Strawberry-tree, is a captivating evergreen tree or shrub native to the Himalayas in China and India. It belongs to the Cornaceae family of plants, which includes various species of Dogwood.
The genus name “Cornus” derives from the Latin word “cornu,” meaning horn, referring to the strength and density of the wood. Specifically, the epithet “capitata” stems from the Latin word “caput,” meaning head, in reference to the mounding flowers and fruits. This dogwood is also commonly called the Himalayan strawberry tree due to its attractive fruit.
Discovery and First Published
The first published information about Cornus capitata dates back to its classification by renowned botanist George Bentham in the mid-19th century. Bentham’s contributions to botanical taxonomy were instrumental in identifying and categorizing numerous plant species, including Cornus capitata.
Cornus capitata is an evergreen to semi-evergreen tree or shrub, typically reaching heights of 20-40 feet (6-12 meters). Its ovate-to-lanceolate leaves, measuring 4-5 inches (10-12 centimeters) in length, are leathery and possess a rough texture. The upper surface of the leaves is dark green, while the lower surface appears gray-green. In colder regions of its growing range, the foliage may drop during cold winters, leading to a loss of evergreen quality. However, new growth appears in spring, replacing the dropped leaves.
In fall, some older leaves may transition to purplish or reddish tones before they drop. The most notable feature of Cornus capitata is its showy flowers, which bloom in late spring to early summer (June-July). The “flower” consists of four pointed, petal-like bracts that surround a center cluster of inconspicuous greenish-white true flowers. These bracts are creamy white to pale yellow, creating an eye-catching display. Following the flowers, the tree produces fleshy, edible berries reminiscent of strawberries. These berries ripen in clusters during the fall, attracting birds and adding ornamental value to the tree.
Flowers and Fragrance
Cornus capitata produces clusters of flowers enveloped by large, creamy-white bracts. These bracts resemble petals and contribute to the tree’s aesthetic appeal. While the true flowers are small and greenish-white, the bracts are the showy parts that capture attention. Although Cornus capitata is not primarily known for its fragrance, some sources suggest a subtle, pleasant aroma from the flowers and leaves.
The flowering season for Cornus capitata occurs in late spring to early summer, specifically during June and July. This is when the tree puts on its magnificent display of creamy-white bracts, creating a visually stunning spectacle in the garden.
Cultivation of Cornus capitata:
Sunlight: Cornus capitata thrives in full sun to partial shade. It benefits from receiving at least six hours of direct sunlight each day, as this promotes healthy growth and abundant flowering.
Watering: Regular watering is crucial, especially during the first year of growth, to establish a strong root system. Provide sufficient water to keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Once established, Cornus capitata exhibits moderate drought tolerance, but it is advisable to water during dry spells to ensure optimal growth and overall plant health.
Soil: Cornus capitata prefers humus-rich, fertile, and well-drained soil. It is adaptable to various soil types, including clay. Prior to planting, amend the soil with compost or well-rotted manure to enhance fertility and improve drainage.
Pests and Diseases:
Cornus capitata is generally considered pest- and disease-resistant. However, it may occasionally encounter the following issues:
- Aphids: These small, soft-bodied insects can feed on the leaves and stems of plants. Control aphids using insecticidal soap or neem oil.
- Scale: Scale insects are armored pests that can attach themselves to the stems and leaves of plants. Use insecticidal soap or neem oil to eliminate scale infestations.
- Powdery mildew: This fungal disease manifests as white, powdery patches on the leaves. Regular watering and avoiding overhead irrigation can help prevent powdery mildew.
- Also, watch out for cornus anthracnose.
Propagation of Cornus capitata:
Cornus capitata can be propagated through various methods, including seed, cuttings, and division.
- Seed: Start seeds indoors during winter and transplant the seedlings outdoors in spring.
- Cuttings: Take softwood cuttings in spring or summer and root them in a well-draining potting mix.
- Division: Divide mature plants either in spring or fall to create new individuals.
With its fragrant flowers, attractive berries, and evergreen foliage, Cornus capitata is a remarkable addition to gardens and landscapes. By providing suitable growing conditions and appropriate care, you can enjoy the beauty of this Himalayan dogwood in your own outdoor space.
Also, read about Cornus kousa
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