Bunchberry shade garden

Bunchberry works very well as ground cover in cooler areas, and is very popular when used as such due to its interesting appearance. The plant is also known by the synonyms Crack Berry, Bunchberry Dogwood and Creeping Dogwood.

These plants, or one should say miniature trees, do exceedingly well in woods, at high elevations, and in rock gardens, and are prized by many herbalists today. Their berries are edible, though not very popular.

The average height for these plants is from six to nine inches tall. They require little or no effort in propagation as they self sow via rhizomes.

Seven leaves extend from the stem, these being followed by white bracts that are above four in number, with a green flower that lies in the center.

The side of the bracts can vary – they can be from one and half inches to about four inches in width. These plants love the shade and are actually a miniature dogwood – which is exactly what they look like.

These highly interesting plants are deciduous in nature and their leaves turn a lovely bright red in fall. They also bear edible though rather tasteless berries.


The flowers bloom all through spring and summer, though in colder climates this can vary with the flowering season beginning in May and continuing through to August.


There are many varieties of bunchberry, such as Cornus canadensis, also known as the Eastern Bunchberry, or Cornus suecica, which is known as the Northern Bunchberry. Most bunchberries grow to no more than eight inches in height, yet are a perfectly formed miniature dogwood.

“A great ground cover for cooler zones 2 through 6. Do very well in a woodland setting, rock gardens and higher elevations.”

Soil and Water

You will have to simulate the rich leafy, humus laden soil of woodlands, as well as its even moist character. The soil should be a trifle acidic to suit bunchberries.

You can generally simulate woodland soil using leaf compost, and by watering the plants regularly, to just enough to keep them moist, not enough to turn the ground swampy.

“A rich humus soil as found in a woodland setting is required, along with even moisture. A slightly acidic soil is also required.”

Growth and Care

Before you even think of growing bunchberries you must ensure that your climate is actually suitable to this, with an average minimum temperature of around minus forty Fahrenheit, and no warmer in summer than 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

Secondly, remember that these plants require at least partial shade. Indeed, they need a little sunlight in the morning or afternoon.

These plants thrive when planted under conifers, because the falling needles tend to maintain the acidity of the soil providing optimal conditions for the bunchberries.

If you cannot use conifers to shade the bunchberries and must have deciduous trees over them instead, you will have to maintain the acidity either by artificial means or by applying mulch made of conifer needles at least once every three years or so.

Remember though that if you do plant them under deciduous trees, that you will have to clear away the leaves regularly; else your bunchberries will be swamped or covered by them.

An interesting tip to growing bunchberries is that they grow much better if planted near rotting dead wood. If you cannot provide this, then you need to mix compost deep into the soil well before you plant the bunchberries.

You could use compost made of saw dust, as wood particles in the soil greatly aid in the development and growth of these interesting plants. But if you do this be sure that the sawdust is clean and free from chemical treatments such as wood preservative.

Bunchberry Summary

  • They will grow 6 to 9 inches tall.
  • Spread by rhizomes and will self sow.
  • From the stem are 7 leaves followed by 4 white bracts and finally the greenish flower in the centre.
  • The bracts range from 1 1/2 to 4 inches wide.
  • This shade lover looks like miniature Dogwood which in actuality they are.
  • They are deciduous, with the leaves turning scarlet red in the fall and developing berries.

Bloom time Spring to Summer while in cooler regions May through August.

There are mini climates with in a zone and you may get lucky and be able to grow these in zone 7.

Good rich humus soil on the acidic side and evenly moist soil should provide you with a forest of miniature Dog Woods.


Visit my gardening books page for some recommendations on a variety of book related to gardening topics.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *