Cornus canadensis L.
Chamaepericlymenum canadense (L.) Asch. & Graebn.
Cornella canadensis (L.) Rydb.
Cornus canadensis L. var. dutillyi (Lepage) B. Boivin
Bunchberry, Canadian Dwarf Cornel, Canadian Bunchberry, Crackerberry, Bunchberry Dogwood
Bunchberry is a native of mid- to northern North America.
Identification: Bunchberry (which has many other common names, not all of which are listed here) rarely exceeds 8" (20 cm) in height. It is the smallest member of the dogwood family. It has alternate pairs of oval leaves, oriented for maximum exposure, to sop up the light on the dappled forest floors it favors. I often see these plants in large, almost continuous mats. The four white “flower petals” are really bracts—modified leaves. They surround the real flowers, a tiny cluster of greenish flowers. The flowers grow into a dense group of bright red berries (the “bunch”). The low growth (often just two inches), orderly leaf clusters, and bright red closely packed berries are identifiers.
The flower structure forms a powerful, spring-loaded launch facility for the pollen, a unique mechanism among flowering plants, as described by its discoverer, Dr. Ted Mosquin:
Then with dissecting needles I began opening one of the buds, only to discover that it seemed to transform itself in a fraction of a second into a fully open flower. I turned to a second bud, opened it and found four normal-looking, fully developed, undehisced anthers. I tried a third and was again surprised by what appeared to be a tiny explosion and what seemed like a small amount of pollen flying in all directions. I realized then that I might be looking at a unique phenomenon-perhaps never before witnessed by humans and perhaps undescribed. It was then that I began to pay more attention to another unusual characteristic of each flower. On the abaxial side and near the tip of one of the four petals of each unopened flower and projecting upward was a miniature “antenna” just over one mm long. It did not take long to establish that even the slightest touch of the dissecting needle to the antenna of any “ready to pop” flower would trigger the explosive mechanism; the petals would reflex, the anthers would spring out simultaneously like four tiny catapults and shoot their entire pollen loads into the air above the inflorescence.
Edibility: Ripe berries are edible, though they contain a hard seed and are fairly tasteless. They can be cooked into puddings.
Cornus canadensis in Paghat's Garden
Cornus canadensis on Earl J.S. Rook's Flora, Fauna, Earth, and Sky ... The Natural History of the Northwoods
Cornus canadensis on CalPhotos
Cornus canadensis on Wikipedia
Cornus canadensis at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Cornus canadensis at the Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation
Cornus canadensis on Plants for a Future, a resource and information centre for edible and otherwise useful plants
Cornus canadensis on the USDA Forest Service's Fire Effects Information Database
Cornus canadensis on the Connecticut Botanical Society's Connecticut wildflowers site
Cornus canadensis description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 30 May 2016.