I came across some Bunchberry in bloom the other day and thought they would make for a nice pproject. Later, they will develop edible, red berries.
The bunchberry, Cornus canadensis is a small, shade-loving, herbaceous Dogwood. They grow to only six or eight inches.
They resemble a miniature dogwood forest. The leaves are the same, the flowers are the same, everything; very much reduced in size.
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Bunchberry develops tiny flowers at the center of the four white, petal-like bracts which is how an apparently single blossom can eventually becomes a small “bunch” of berries instead of one big berry.
The flowers have elastic petals that flip backward, releasing springy filaments that are cocked underneath the petals. The filaments snap upward flinging pollen out of containers hinged to the filaments. This motion takes place in less than half a millisecond and the pollen experiences 800 times the acceleration that the Space Shuttle did during liftoff. The Bunchberry has one of the fastest plant actions found so far requiring a camera capable of shooting 10,000 frames per second to catch the action.
When I am in Idaho I munch on the fruits regularly when in season; they taste a bit like apples. Birds are the primary means through which seeds are distributed. Bunchberry is an important forage plant for mule deer, black-tailed deer and moose, which consume it throughout the growing season.
Bunchberry needs cool, moist soils. It is native to northern China, far eastern Russia, Japan, and North America in montane and boreal coniferous forests, where it is found growing along the margins of moist woods, on old tree stumps, in mossy areas, and amongst other open and moist habitats.
Where bunchberry, a forest species, and Cornus suecica, a bog species, grow near each other in their overlapping ranges in Alaska, Labrador, and Greenland, they can hybridize by cross-pollination, producing plants with intermediate characteristics.
Northwest aboriginal peoples traditionally preserved the berries in bear fat, as they did with many berries. In New England it was common to add a few bunchberries to plum pudding for the sake of the added color or because the amount of pectin in bunchberries causes pudding to set up without need of cornstarch, it became known as puddingberry.
Indian peoples used all sorts of dogwoods, including bunchberry, to bandage wounds. Abneki Indians believed in bunchberry’s curative powers, & called it batkilawinbizon which means roughly “plant that fixes pain in side,” reflecting a persisting alternative-medicines claim that bunchberry can control bedwetting or assist in kidney disease.
There are also modern herbalists who claim dogwoods can relieve symptoms of gum disease if bark is chewed or if dogwood twigs are used for cleaning between teeth. All of these alleged values are debatable, but a mild astringent quality is sufficient to justify such folk beliefs.