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A Comprehensive Guide to Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is a low deciduous shrub that is native to the northern United States, the higher elevations of the southwest, and Canada. This plant is a host to the Spring Azure butterfly (Celastrina ladon) and the Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia). Growing from 0.5 to 1 foot tall, this species has green to white flowers that bloom from May to July. This shrub is hardy in zones 2-7.

Taxonomy and Naming of the Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)

Herbarium specimen of bunchberry (Cornus canadensis).
Herbarium Specimen of Bunchberry — Harvard University, Public Domain


Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) was originally named and described by Carl von Linnaeus in Species Plantarum (1753). This species has kept the same name since, but has had a lot of forms that is reflective of it variability as a species. This shrub is a member of the Dogwood Family (Cornaceae).

Meaning of the Scientific and Common Names

Scientific Name

The genus name, Cornus, is from the Latin word “cornu,” which means horn (Missouri Botanical Garden) and refers to the toughness of the wood. The species name, canadensis, is a Latinized form of the original collection location.

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name comes from a description of the red berries. Other common names include Canadian Bunchberry, and Canadian Dwarf Cornel, and Dwarf Dogwood, which describe the short-stature of this plant, and creeping dogwood for its creeping habit. Another name, pudding-berry (Bailey and Bailey 1976), describes a food use of the fruits.

Physical Description of Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)

Plants of bunchberry (Cornus canadensis).
Bunchberry Plants — National Archives at College Park – Still Pictures, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


  • Plant Type: This plant is a low deciduous shrub.
  • Height: 0.5 to 1 foot tall
  • Stem: The stem is woody at the base, but otherwise appears herbaceous. The stems spread via a rhizome.
  • Leaves: The leaves are opposite, simple, entire, and elliptic to ovate in shape. The leaves are 1 to 3 inches long and up to an inch in width. The leaves may appear to be whorled.
  • Flower color: green to white
  • Blooming period: This plant blooms from May to July.
  • Fruiting type and period: This plant fruits with red berries in the summer.

Range of Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) in the United States and Canada

Range map of bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) in the United States and Canada.
Range Map Credit: Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2023.(website Chapel Hill, N.C. [maps generated from Kartesz, J.T. 2023. Floristic Synthesis of North America, Version 1.0. Biota of North America Program (BONAP). (in press)]

This species is native to the northern and higher elevations of the southwestern United States and is throughout Canada.


Shrub swamp in West Virginia.
Shrub Swamp Habitat — Tim Kiser (w:User:Malepheasant), CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

This dogwood generally grows in shrub swamps in wetlands and the edges of waterbodies, either as monotype or with other shrubs.

Hosted Insects

Spring azure butterfly on leaf.
Spring Azure Butterfly — ALAN SCHMIERER, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species is a host for the Spring Azure Butterfly (Celastrina ladon), the Io Moth (Automeris io), and the Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia).

Other Supported Wildlife

House sparrow on log.
House Sparrow — Mathias Appel, CC0 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species is a nectar source to other butterflies, skippers, and bees. It is also a food source for birds in the late summer and fall. The fruits are also eaten by mammals, large and small.

Frequently Asked Questions about Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)

Is this plant deer resistant?

This plant has been noted to be deer resistant (Missouri Botanical Garden).

Does this plant have any ethnobotanical uses?

The Native American Ethobotanical Database shows that this shrub has been used for pharmaceuticals, for smoking, and as a food.

How is this plant distinguished from other dogwoods?

This dogwood, along with the dwarf cornel (Cornus suecica) are two of the shortest dogwoods in North America and both can be identified by this fact. However, C. seucica is found in bogs, while C. canadensis is found in forested areas. In addition the flower of dwarf cornel is purplish-black, while bunchberry is white (Flora of Newfoundland and Labrador(PDF)). These two plants can hybridize producing plants that are intermediate (Cornus x intermedia) (Wikipedia). The flowers on both shrubs are very similar to those seen on the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), but the bunchberry is probably more so.

Is this plant invasive?

This plant has not been shown to be invasive in the literature.

What are some interesting facts about this plant?

There are two short dogwoods in the North America, this one and the dwarf cornel (Cornus suecica). There are also several hybrids associated with these species.

Gardening with Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)

Add Bunchberry to Your Garden

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Red fruit of bunchberry (Cornus canadensis).
Fruit of Bunchberry — Neelix at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


This species is hardy in zones 2-7. If your garden is within these zones and you have the right growing conditions (soil, moisture and exposure), you may well be able to grow this plant. However, if planted outside of its range, the hosted species may not recognize the plant or be harmed by ingesting a different species with an unfamiliar chemical composition.

Optimal Conditions

This species grows best in places that have full sun to shade and moist to medium acidic soils that are well-drained. It does not tolerate dry soils.


  • Bailey, Liberty Hyde and Ethel Zoe Bailey. 1976. Hortus Third. (New York: MacMillan Publishing Company).
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Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe is a professional ecologist and botanist who has worked as the State Ecologist of Delaware and as an ecologist for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. He is also a former Past-President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. He currently is an innkeeper at McMullen House Bed & Breakfast LLC and a web designer and owner for Silphium Design LLC.