Northern Shade Gardening

Bunchberry for Fall Colour

Friday, September 24, 2010 Category: Perennials

Cornus canadensis (bunchberry) is an easy care groundcover for the shade under trees, that develops great Fall colour. The leaves turn from green to a handsome red, making an eye-catching Autumn display. All of these photos are showing their seasonal colour change.

Cornus canadensis bunchberry with red tinge

Cornus canadensis bunchberry with red tinge

My bunchberry are planted in the shade under an evergreen, on the side that gets almost no direct light. Despite the deep shade, the plants grow well, and make a green carpet over the summer, needing no real attention. They would probably get more flowers in medium shade, or the shade of deciduous trees. This groundcover looks much prettier than half dead grass, or a rock mulch under the evergreen boughs.

Cornus canadensis bunchberry leaves with red edges

Cornus canadensis bunchberry leaves with red edges

The bunchberry are right at  home in the forest atmosphere under the tall spruce. The spruce cones, dropped needles, and cone scales left by squirrels blend with the plants to make a natural forest floor under the trees.

Cornus canadensis bunchberry turning red in Autumn

Cornus canadensis bunchberry turning red in Autumn

My bunchberry grow about 13 cm (5 inches) tall, but I’ve seen them a little taller than that in the wild. They spread to make an attractive green carpet of leaves under the trees. Earlier in the season they have what looks like white flowers, but are 4 large white decorative bracts, with small flowers in the middle.  They can develop into large red berry clusters.

Cornus canadensis bunchberry red fall foliage

Cornus canadensis bunchberry red fall foliage

Bunchberry are especially attractive as the Autumn chill sets in, when they develop a deep red colour. Soon, all of the leaves are a deep scarlet red, brightening the ground under the evergreens.

Cornus canadensis bunchberry all red leaves for fall

Cornus canadensis bunchberry all red leaves for fall

In the photo above you can see the full red  and purple Fall colour of the foliage. It is very striking, rising up out of the brown cones and needle mulch. Cornus canadensis is especially attractive white flowers in late spring or red leaves in autumn.

If you are looking for a low maintenance groundcover perennial for a shady site, bunchberry will make a natural woodsy look. The dramatic Autumn colour change is an added bonus. You can see more photos of Cornus canadensis in my garden here, including pictures of the plants in flower.

Here is a collage showing the different stages of colour change for some of the bunchberry plants.

Cornus canadensis bunchberry Fall collage

Cornus canadensis bunchberry Fall collage

16 Responses to “Bunchberry for Fall Colour” »

  1. The Garden Ms. S :
    September 24, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    They look great with the pine cones. What a nice groundcover plant for making the garden glow in the fall. :)

  2. shady gardener :
    September 24, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    Hi Northern Shade! I’d heard of this plant before, but have known nothing about it. It’s beautiful, is it not? Is it deciduous or does it grow from the roots each year? If it performs like you’ve described… I’d better check it out! :-) Thanks!

  3. Rebecca @ In The Garden :
    September 24, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    What a gorgeous fall transformation. Great looking groundcover in the shade. :)

  4. Northern Shade :
    September 25, 2010 at 6:55 am

    The Garden Ms. S, some of my other perennials don’t make the Fall change gracefully like these, so I appreciate the ones with either evergreen leaves, or with such vivid colour development like bunchberry.

    Shady Gardener, the leaves are semi-evergreen, so in spring they provide some garden interest as the snow melts. Last spring mine then lost their winter leaves in later spring frosts, and then grew new ones. I never even removed the old foliage, so they really are low maintenance. They can develop large red berry clusters in Fall.

    Rebecca, I like their natural look under the low evergreen tree branches. They are modest looking for much of the year, but are popping now.

  5. Dave :
    September 26, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Bunchberry really is a great ground cover and I’m very happy with the results from two 4″ pots purchased (rescued) from a local home renovation retailer in 2005. They have spread to cover the front edge of a deep shade bed on the north side of the house. They seem to be able to hold their own with the rather weedy forget-me-nots that fill in between them and bunchberry looks good pretty much through out the year (when not covered by snow). I’m always leery of buying native plants at large retail outlets, but in this case the commercial variety seems to be more vigorous than the several accidental accessions that have arrived in plugs designed to move another forest woodland plant.

  6. Northern Shade :
    September 26, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    Dave, mine are slowly spreading to make a carpet under the spruce, about 2 metres by a metre and a half (6 ft by 4 ft), and I love the look of them through the low evergreen needles. I picked up a few more on sale recently to spread a little further around the tree. I have been thinking of adding some twinflower into the patch.

  7. debsgarden :
    September 26, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    I’m afraid this beautiful plant would never survive my hot summers, and that is a loss to me. I would definitely plant bunchberry if I could. I like everything about it, and it has lovely fall colors, too! Lucky you!

  8. Northern Shade :
    September 27, 2010 at 7:38 am

    Debsgarden, they make a nice natural looking planting for a woodland garden, so it is unfortunate that they won’t grow for you. After a few frosts now, most of mine are a purple red.

  9. guild-rez :
    September 27, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    Thank you for your great post about bunchberry plants.
    Great colour and survives cold winters too!
    What a lovely plant I could use in our garden as well.
    Gisela.

  10. Northern Shade :
    September 27, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    Guild-rez, bunchberry is very easy-care. I especially like plants that are a lovely green, and then show a dramatic Autumn colour change. The leaves have an attractive arrangement, too, in groups of four.

  11. Marit :
    September 28, 2010 at 4:10 am

    I have never seen that plant here in Norway. It had a wonderful fall color! I guess that it will be hardy here too. I must look for that plant next year.

  12. Northern Shade :
    September 28, 2010 at 6:58 am

    Marit, Cornus canadensis grows all across Canada in the woodland, and I think it grows circumpolar, that is around northern Asia and Europe, too. Although we have had warm weather for the last few days, the earlier frosts seem to have brought out peak colour changes in most plants and trees.

  13. Lythrum :
    September 29, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    Beautiful pictures. :)

  14. Northern Shade :
    September 29, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    Lythrum, as more and more of my plants, like ferns and iris, are disappearing at this time of year, I really value the perennials that have an interesting transformation, or evergreen leaves to keep me enjoying the garden.

  15. Jennifer :
    June 9, 2013 at 10:51 am

    I need to find 6 of these for one of my customers. Can anyone direct me to a nursery or otherwise who has them?

  16. Northern Shade :
    June 9, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    Jennifer, I’ve ordered from Fraser’s Thimble Farms before, http://www.thimblefarms.com/perennials%20a-g.html, and they have some Cornus canadensis available on this page.

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