Cornus unalaschkensis (Cornus canadensis) - bunchberry, dwarf dogwood

Family: Cornaceae
Wetland Indictor Status: FAC

General Species Description

Cornus Unalaschkensis is a low trailing perennial herb found in forested wetlands and uplands. The rhizomatous plant spreads slowly by underground stems and occasionally forms a thick mat. Short, slightly hairy and semi-woody stems stand erect between 5-20mm. Stems frequently have 1-2 leaf-like bracts below the leaf whorl. 4-7 leaves are whorled at top of stem.


Evergreen leaves are whorled 4-7 leaves per whorl (usually 6 leaves).


True flowers are greenish white clusters enclosed by white petal-like bracts. Together flower and bracts are approximately 2-3cm in diameter. Cornus Unalaschkensis blooms from June to August. Flower dependent on pollinators to produce fruit.


Fruit consists of scarlet berries, 5-9 mm diameter. Emerge in late summer and are spread by wildlife.


Commonly found in moist coniferous woodlands amidst other under story vegetation frequently under conditions of acid soil and partial shade.


Alaska to Greenland south to Maryland, New Mexico and California. It is also found in northeastern Asia. Grows throughout western Oregon and Washington.

Similar Species

Despite its miniature size, the low-growing bunchberry is related to the flowering dogwood trees. In Oregon, the leaf, bracts, and flowers look remarkably like the much larger tree Cornus Nuttalli (Pacific Dogwood).

Ecological Value

Cornus Unalaschkensis typically grows under mature coniferous forests. It is a source of food for a range of wildlife species including mule deer, grouse, and mice. In areas of eastern Canada Cornus Unalaschkensis been shown to be particularly effective in neutralizing the effects of acid rain within microclimatic conditions. The small plant returns quickly after fire disturbance.

Human Value

Cornus Unalaschkensis is cultivated as a horticultural groundcover because of its showy flowers and fruits. Berries fruit can be used for jelly and pies. The fruit can also be eaten fresh and was used by native people.


Cooke, S. S., ed. 1997. A Field Guide to the Common Wetland Plants of Western Washington & Northwest Oregon. Seattle Audubon Society and Washington Native Plant Society. Seattle Audubon Society, Seattle WA, 106pp.

Hitchcock, C. L. and A. Cronquist. 1973. Flora of the Pacific Northwest. University of Washington Press, Seattle WA, 730pp.

Johnson, Cam, 1995. Fire Effects Information, USDA Forest Service, published 12/12/95 online at:

Michigan State Extension Service, 1998. Ornamental Plants plus Version 2.0, published online at:

This page was created by: Jim Labbe, August 1998

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