Description & Overview

Often found in the understory of cool coniferous forests, in bogs, and in tamarack swamps, Bunchberry is a native Wisconsin perennial found throughout the state. Woody rhizomes create a carpet, making it an effective, slowly forming groundcover. Large, jade green leaves are accented with pure white flowers, similar to Kousa Dogwood, are followed by vibrant red berries. In autumn, as the temperatures cool, Bunchberry’s leaves turn shades of burgundy, red, and purple-a truly spectacular show.

This plant is no longer in production. The product info remains for informational purposes.

Core Characteristics

Category: Perennial

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 2

Mature Height: 2-8 inches

Mature Spread: 2-6 feet

Growth Rate: Slow

Growth Form: Upright, spreading, groundcover

Light Requirements: Partial Shade to Full Shade

Site Requirements: Moist, acidic soils, well - drained, and rich.

Flower: White, four - parted, up to 1.5" wide bracts, solitary.

Bloom Period: May – July

Foliage: Four to six leaves in a whorled cluster.

Fall Color: Shades of red, burgundy, and purple.

Urban Approved: Yes

Fruit Notes: Clusters of red berries ripen in August.

Suggested Uses

Bunchberry does best in part shade to full shade, in moist, well-drained acidic soil. It is intolerant of summer heat, salt, or drought, so be sure to site this plant correctly. In southern Wisconsin, because our soil tends to be more alkaline, Bunchberry may struggle. Plant beneath pine or hemlock trees to take advantage of the more acidic pH. Applying soil acidifiers may help, but this will be an ongoing battle requiring multiple treatments throughout the year. If you have a cabin up north, where the soil is naturally more acidic, plant Bunchberry! The berries are great food for wildlife and can bring game in closer.

Cornus canadensis loves the shade and enjoys living alongside other acid-loving shade plants such as hemlocks, Fothergilla, ferns, or Rhododendrons. The beautiful white bracts in spring, the red berries in summer, and the wine-red fall color will put on a constant show throughout the seasons.

Wildlife Value

Bunchberry is considered an important food source for a wide variety of animals, including deer, elk, bears, many bird species, and small mammals. Chipmunks, martens, snowshoe hares, and rabbits feed on the stems and fruits. Ruffed Grouse, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Vireos, Thrushes, and Veeries also enjoy the fruit.

Bunchberry Leaffolder Moth (Olethreutes connectus), Eastern Pine Elfin (Callophyrs niphon), Spring Azure (Celastrina argiolus), Mustard White (Pieris napi), and American Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) will visit to collect nectar.

Seeking nectar and pollen, Bunchberry is pollinated by a significant number of short and long-tongued bees including bumblebees, solitary bees, bee flies, Miner bees, Nomad bees, Megachilid bees, furrow bees, and syrphid flies to name only a few. Wasps, ants, sawflies, and various beetles and plant bugs also take advantage of Bunchberry.

Its small seeds are dispersed by ants, birds, and rodents.

Maintenance Tips

Bunchberry is fairly low maintenance provided they are planted in the right location-moist, well-drained, and acidic soil-otherwise it can turn into a battle of wills, as previously stated.

Mulching with pine needles or peat moss is beneficial to help lower the soil pH and retain moisture.

Pests/Problems

Black Walnut Tolerant: Yes
Deer Resistant: No
Rabbit Resistant: No

As mentioned earlier, Bunchberry thrives in acidic soil and may not be the best choice for areas in southern Wisconsin where the bedrock is limestone, and the soil much more alkaline.

When stressed, whether from extreme heat, humidity, or drought, Bunchberry can be susceptible to powdery mildew, leaf spot, canker, and leaf and twig blight. To prevent these issues, make sure to properly site the plants in shady and moist conditions. Root rot can occur if they are waterlogged-again, proper siting will prevent this from happening. Bunchberry has good resistance to dogwood anthracnose (Discula destructiva), a fungus that attacks twigs, branches, trunks, and leaves of dogwood species.

Leaf Lore

The genus name Cornus is from the Latin word “cornu” which means “horn” referring to the hardness of the wood. The specific epithet canadensis references its native habitat of Canada.

The mature fruit of Bunchberry can be eaten raw or cooked and is said to have a mild flavor that isn’t very tasty. Cornus canadensis (usda.gov) High in flavonoids and Vitamin C, they are a great addition to jams, sauces, and preserves. Bunchberry is high in pectin making them a worthy additive to jams with fruit lower in pectin.

The Ojibwa used an infusion of the roots to treat colic in infants. Other Indigenous peoples’ used the plant to ease side pains, stomach aches, and a decoction of the leaves for eyewashes. The berries were a food source and were used during ceremonies. The inner rootbark was used to help lower fevers, and treat viral infections, coughs, and tuberculosis.

The anthers are capable of catapulting pollen into the air up to an inch in distance to aid in the cross-pollination of plants.

Companion Plants

Plant Bunchberry with others that enjoy similar moist and acidic conditions such as:

  • Black Spruce (Picea mariana)
  • White Spruce (Picea glauca)
  • Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)
  • Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)
  • Alder (Alnus incana var. rugosa)
  • Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera)
  • Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)
  • Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana)
  • Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
  • Yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis)
  • Northern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis)
  • False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum)
  • Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis)

Mix Bunchberry with other native groundcovers including:

  • Canada Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense)
  • Big-leaf Aster (Eurybia macrophylla)
  • Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata)
  • Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica)
  • Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris)
  • Meadow Anemone (Anemone canadensis)
  • Prairie Alumroot (Heuchera richardsonii)
  • Wil Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)
  • Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)
  • Starry False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum stellatum)
  • Eastern Prickly Pear (Opuntia humifusa)
  • Hairy Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis)
Often found in the understory of cool coniferous forests, in bogs, and in tamarack swamps, Bunchberry is a native Wisconsin perennial found throughout…
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Written by Beth DeLain