Wildflowers of the Adirondacks:
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is a wildflower that grows in mixed wood forests in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. Its dogwood-like white flowers appear in late spring, followed by bright red berries in late summer.
This plant is also called Bunchberry Dogwood, Dwarf Dogwood, Canadian Bunchberry, Dogwood Bunchberry, Pudding Berry, Crackerberry, Creeping Dogwood, and Dwarf Cornel. The genus name cornus is Latin for horn – a reference to the hardness of the wood of some dogwoods. Most other members of the dogwood genus are trees or shrubs. Bunchberry is listed as threatened in Iowa and Ohio, and endangered in Illinois, Indiana, and Maryland.
Identification of Bunchberry
Bunchberry is an erect, low-growing plant, three to eight inches tall. It grows from creeping roots and often forms colonies.
Bunchberry leaves are dark green and shiny. They appear to grow in whorls of four to six. The leaves are 1.5 to 3 inches long, with smooth edges. The leaves are oval, pointed at both ends, and have prominent veins curving into an arc. In the fall, Bunchberry foliage contributes to the fall color, by turning a striking purple or wine-red.
Bunchberry plants sport what appears to be a single, showy white flower in late spring and early summer. The "flower" is actually a series of four large petal-like bracts, surrounding the actual flowers, which are tiny and greenish, with four minute petals. The flower head is usually about an inch wide. In the Adirondacks, Bunchberry usually begins flowering in late May or early June.
The flowers are followed by fruit, starting in late summer. The fruit consists of a cluster of bright red berries, about a quarter of an inch wide. Each of the red drupes contains one smooth seed. In the Adirondacks, look for the berries starting in late July through mid-August, depending on the weather.
Uses of Bunchberry
Bunchberry fruit is said to edible, but not very flavorful. The fruits reportedly can be consumed raw or cooked. Native Americans used them in puddings and sauces, ate them raw, or dried them for winter use. The fruit is said to be rich in pectin.
Bunchberry was used medicinally by a number of native American groups. For instance, the Abnaki used an infusion of the leaves as a cathartic tea. The Hoh used an infusion of the bark as a tonic. The Iroquois took a decoction of the whole plant for coughs and fevers.
Wildlife Value of Bunchberry
Bunchberry provides a food source for some species of wildlife. In some parts of its range, White-tailed Deer consume Bunchberry foliage, as do caribou, moose, and elk, although this plant does not appear to be a preferred food source for any of them. Bunchberry fruits are eaten by American Black Bears and small mammals. Eastern Chipmunks, American Martens, Eastern Cottontails, and Snowshoe Hares feed on bunchberry stems and fruits.
Distribution of Bunchberry
Bunchberry's range extends throughout Canada, Alaska, and other northern US latitudes. In the continental US, it is limited mostly to mountainous regions
In New York State, Bunchberry grows in most counties in the eastern half of the state. This plant is very common in the northern and cooler parts of New York, becoming rare and scattered in the southern and warmer parts of the state. Bunchberry is found in all counties within the Adirondack Park Blue Line.
Habitat of Bunchberry
Bunchberry tolerates a wide range of soil types and moisture and nutrient conditions, mainly in climates that are cool and moist. It grows well in well-drained soils in full sun to partial shade, but can also grow in poorly drained soils and dense shade. The species tolerates a range of pH, but is most often found on slightly to very acidic sites.
With these rather flexible requirements, Bunchberry occurs in a wide range of coniferous, deciduous, and mixed forests. This species generally persists after forest disturbances and can occur in all stages of forest succession. It appears to be more abundant in later successional stages. In the Adirondacks, Bunchberry is found in a wide variety of ecological communities:
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