Bunchberry (Or, When Is a Flower Not a Flower?)

More wildflowers are starting to come into bloom now, including bunchberry – that is, Cornus canadensis, a member of the dogwood family. But take a close look at this flower…

What look at first glance like four large white flower petals are not actually part of the flower at all. They’re modified leaves called bracts. In the middle of the bracts is a group (or inflorescence) of tiny individual flowers, each with a single dark style (the female reproductive part) at its center. Later on each little blossom will develop into a fruit, and the plant will have a cluster of cheerful red “berries,” thus its name.

Here’s another one, with the bracts still greenish and the flowers unopened.

The poinsettias you buy at Christmas have the same basic structure: the bright red petals are actually bracts. Do any of y’all have bunchberry where you are? I’m pretty sure it’s only found in the northern parts of the country.

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