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Bunchberry Flowering

6-13-18 bunchberry_U1A6617Rarely do you come upon just one Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), for their underground rhizomes produce colonies of plants, called clones, that are genetically identical to one another (asexual reproduction).

This diminutive member of the Dogwood family is dependent upon pollinating bees and flies for the production of seeds (sexual reproduction). Instead of luring pollinators with showy petals, Bunchberry has four white modified leaves, called bracts, that serve this purpose. (Poinsettia “petals” are also bracts.) The actual petals of Bunchberry are much smaller (about 1/10th of an inch in diameter) and are found in the true flowers clustered in the center of the bracts. Close observation reveals that these tiny petals are very elastic, and when a visiting insect places a foot on one, the petal flips backward, releasing a filament underneath it that snap upwards, flinging pollen out of containers hinged to the filament – an effective means of dusting visiting insects who will further disperse the pollen.

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15 responses

  1. susantcloutier

    Thank you for another engaging and informative post. I did not know the pollen dispersal details.

    June 13, 2018 at 7:36 am

  2. Brooke Decker

    If bunchberries reproduce through their rhizome, why do they still rely on pollination?

    June 13, 2018 at 8:01 am

    • According to forester Virginia Barlow, cloning works perfectly when conditions are optimum for that particular plant. But having flowers is the only way to add genetic diversity in case there are environmental or ecological changes. A tweak of the genome allows for adaptation.

      June 13, 2018 at 8:04 pm

  3. The term “Bachelor Button” comes to mind. Is this another name for “Bunchberry” ?

    June 13, 2018 at 8:21 am

    • I’ve never heard it referred to as “bachelor button.” I’m only familiar with the cultivated flower that has that name. Other common names for bunchberry include dwarf cornel, low cornel, and herb dogwood.

      June 13, 2018 at 2:45 pm

  4. Alice Pratt

    Fascinating…Planet Earth is so totally amazing!

    June 13, 2018 at 9:01 am

  5. Bill On The Hill

    Beautiful plants… I have them scattered about on my property… They seem to like under-story locations with a mixture of sun… The blossom looks like a dogwood blossom, must have something to do as to why it is in the cornus family…
    I have ancient narcissus that just barely went by in my fields & yes I did a macro like photo of one blossom that came out awesome. Shot with my NEW ( now discontinued ) 5DM3/24-105mm f/4L lens at 105mm… I have a 12 x 12 of it on my wall!
    Great post Mary & thank you…
    Bill Farr…

    June 13, 2018 at 9:02 am

    • Thank you, Bill, for sharing your finds and photographic adventures with us.

      June 13, 2018 at 2:43 pm

  6. Missy Fabel

    I’ve noticed (and your picture confirms) that bunchberry will only flower with six leaves. Do you know anything about this? How long it takes to develop six leaves etc.

    June 13, 2018 at 9:03 am

    • Hi Missy,
      I don’t know how long it takes to develop the six leaves, but I do know that plants without flowers are often four-leaved instead of six-leaved, which could possibly reflect the flowering plant’s greater energy needs.

      June 13, 2018 at 2:42 pm

  7. Everett Marshall

    I thought some would be interested in this article: on a popping mechanism of the flower.

    June 13, 2018 at 11:50 am

  8. Char Delabar


    June 13, 2018 at 2:30 pm

  9. Thelma Hewitt

    I appreciate all I have learned from you! Perhaps I can add some information re bunchberries.

    Their botanical name was corrected and revised a few years ago: Cornus canadensis should now be called “Chamaepericlymenum canadense.” Other plants formerly with the genus name Cornus have also had their name changed. The flowering dogwood tree, formerly Cornus florida is now recognized to be – Benthamidia florida. see https://gobotany.newenglandwil

    ​This Genus’s Species in New England:

    – *Benthamidia florida * – *Benthamidia japonica *

    ​ Some other trees in the cornacaeae family are now considered to belong to the genus Swida

    – *Swida alternifolia * – *Swida amomum * – *Swida racemosa * – *Swida rugosa * – *Swida sanguinea * – *Swida sericea *

    I’m attaching a photo of a lonely “double form” of a Chamaepericlymenum canadense that I found September 1 some years ago, when helping a friend identify wildflowers on a large property that eventually became a golf course. In spite of the massive numbers of bunchberry plants that grow in our area, I have never seen another like this one. I have also had some Trillium undulatum that seem to have some mixed-up genetic material: one had four petals and four leaves instead of the usual three parts. When I called it to the attention of Bill Cullina, he suggested I “contain” that one and see what happened the next year. For several years it has been enclosed with a “hardware cloth” fence, but it did not yet repeat the odd variation.these photos are probably not high enough quality for you to use,but I thought you might find them interesting.

    Trillium undulatum May 6, 2013 New London,N H


    Mrs.John H. Hewitt PO Box 2333 New London, NH03257 603-763-0045

    On Wed, Jun 13, 2018 at 7:30 AM, Naturally Curious with Mary Holland wrote:

    > Mary Holland posted: “Rarely do you come upon just one Bunchberry (Cornus > canadensis), for their underground rhizomes produce colonies of plants, > called clones, that are genetically identical to one another (asexual > reproduction). This diminutive member of the Dogwood family ” >

    June 14, 2018 at 1:09 pm

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