Category Archives: Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)

Blueberry variation

Learning about how much variation there is in bog blueberries in Dr. Pat Holloway’s class makes me realize that perhaps that is partly why I’m attracted to them. If each bush and cluster of berries were the same, it wouldn’t be nearly as exciting to pick blueberries. For instance, bunchberries, while also not quite as tasty, they don’t seem to have near the variability of blueberries. All the plants are about as high, and the berries seem to be very similar in size. HR Fairbanks

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Spruce Bark Beetles and Berries

Being from the Kenai Peninsula and having first hand experience with spruce bark beetle die off in my home town of Moose Pass, it was interesting to read the effects the spruce bark beetle die off had on berry populations in the area. This article goes into depth about the effect tree coverage had on the berry stands in the area after the trees began to grow back after the spruce bark beetle die off. Each berry tested had slightly different results, but for the most part they averaged being the most productive at 50% coverage, then loosing productivity after that. BE Moose Pass, AK

Abstract: “Land managers on the Kenai Peninsula have responded to recent extensive infestations of forests by spruce beetles (Dendroctonus rufipennis (Kirby)) and associated increased fire risk with a variety of management approaches. To provide additional ecological information upon which to base these management prescriptions, we evaluated the response of the cover of berry species to variations in landscape factors and environmental conditions, including crown closure. Data were sufficient to describe the response of cover of bunchberry dogwood (Cornus canadensis), black crowberry (Empetrum nigrum), false toadflax (Geocaulon lividum), strawberryleaf raspberry (Rubus pedatus), lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), and a combination of 24 other species through multinomial logistic regression. Crown closure and forest overstory type significantly influenced the cover of all berry species. Increasing crown closure had a negative effect on all berry species except strawberryleaf raspberry. Level of infestation by spruce beetles was significantly related to the cover of all species except lingonberry. Our findings indicate that spruce forests may be managed to enhance berry cover and that choice of management technique (e.g., timber harvest, prescribed fire) will likely result in different outcomes.”

During, L.H., M.I. Goldstein, S.M. Howell and C.S. Nations. 2008. Response of the cover of berry-producing species to ecological factors on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, USA Canadian Journal of Forest Research.Vol. 38, No. 5 : pp. 1244-1259

The Baneberry

The Red Baneberry (Actaea rubra)

My property contains a diverse collection of wild berries that I am starting to become familiar with so that in the future landscaping of my yard I can incorporate these wild stands to the best of my ability. There are high and low bush cranberries, raspberries, currants, red baneberries and at least one more berry that I think is possibly dwarf dogwood berries. The berries I am most concerned about are the red baneberries and that is because I know they are toxic and I know my son is extremely curious about everything (he already ate a baneberry on his second birthday which I spent about 30 minutes over-reacting on the phone with poison control).

The Actaea rubra commonly called red or white baneberry grows on a bushy plant with large divided leaves that have jagged edges and it grows around 1-2 tall and wide. Small round clusters of white flowers grow near leaf axils and at the ends of stems. The stamens of the flower give it a fluffy almost feathery appearance and they are quite pretty. The berries grow at the ends of tall thick stems in spherical bundles of beautiful red or white berries. They are very pretty and could be used ornamentally if I was not concerned with future ingestion.

The baneberry can be propagated by root or sown by seed, which may take 2 years to germinate and can begin to flower in the third year. Some lab studies have shown that only about 9% of seeds will germinate and “survival rates are 50% in sun while 64.3% in the shade” (Crane M.F. 1990). These berries are deciduous perennials and their broad width provides good ground coverage for small ground foraging birds and mammals. Red baneberries are consumed by many songbirds and small mammals but are toxic to people.

The red baneberry contains a poisonous essential oil in all of the plants parts but with higher concentration in the berries and roots. If ingested in large quantities they could have adverse effects to the nervous system. Some symptoms include; irritation of the mouth and throat, nausea, stomach cramping, headache, dizziness, diarrhea, increased heart rate, etc. (Crane M.F. 1990). Some European species have been known to be fatal to small children but there have been no known reports of baneberries being fatal to humans or livestock in the United States (NPIN). Luckily my son only ate one and had no symptoms.

My yard goals are still not clear to me yet as we are just building our house and planning for the future but I would really like to keep most the berries that grow naturally here. Unfortunately as beautiful as the baneberry bushes are I do think I will be trying to eliminate them from the yard to keep small curious children safe. I worry that in my attempts to get rid of the baneberries I will damage the other berries and so I am curious to learn about safe transplanting and elimination processes.  LH Fairbanks

Baneberry growing in a garden. White blooms in June. Red balls of fruit in late summer. Plants in the woods are taller, more open, but still have the characteristic dissected foliage. Berries are borne at the top of the bushy stems that can be 18 inches to 3 feet tall depending on the amount of shade.

The bunchberry, Cornus canadensis, is a ground cover that creeps along the forest floor. The leaves are quite distinct from the baneberry being in a rosette at the top of a very short stem– maybe 4-6 inches tall. They, too have red berries. They are edible but not palatable. They are located in bunches close to the ground.

cornus-canadensis-copyCrane, M. F.  1990.  Actaea rubra.  In: Fire Effects Information System. Online. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/. Accessed September 11, 2016.

“NPIN: Native Plant Database.” Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. N.p., n.d. Web. Available: http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=ACRU2. Accessed on September 11, 2016.

Exploding Flowers of the Bunchberry – world’s fastest flower

Explosive Flowering of the Bunch Berry

NPR’s All Things Considered covers the discovery of the Bunch Berry as the worlds fastest flower. The audio recording on NPR’s website (link below) includes an interview with the student, Sarah Klionsky, who made the initial discovery and her Biology professor, Joan Edwards, who facilitated the subsequent research. The story drives home how important discoveries can still be made of what is often overlooked.   Exploding Bunchberries. More about the research that was done and how it was performed is available on Williams College website:  Student Research

Arctic Berry Harvesting- Churchill, Canada

This site lists the common berries found in and around Churchill,Canada and great information about the berries, photos,  and personal harvesting reports, as well as tidbits about wildlife and birds in the area. Churchill, Canada Berries. It includes kinnikinnick, wild blueberries, bunchberries, cloudberries, bog cranberries, crowberries, gooseberries, raspberries, lingonberries and highbush cranberries.

All about the Bunchberry

When I started harvesting berries I kept coming across a little plant close to the ground that had a little “bunch” of berries at the top. I found out that these were bunchberries, and they grew on plant called a dwarf dogwood (Cornus canadensis). I was told that the berries were edible, but not particularly tasty. Since then I have learned a little more about this plant. Here are some interesting things about the bunchberry:

They are very high in pectin and often mixed into more tasty berries in order to help them set in jams and jellies. In fact you can find recipes for pectin derived from bunchberries available on the internet.

The leaves of the dwarf dogwood turn a beautiful red color in the fall and you can often see them on the mountains here in southcentral Alaska as large patches of red.

They are the ‘fastest’ plant when they open their petals to pollinate (22 feet per second!).

Here is a great source of information on the humble bunchberry:

Bunchberry