The fastest plant in the world resides unassumingly in Nova Scotia’s cool woods. Botanists have discovered that the petals of bunchberries move at a speed of 22 feet per second when they open, releasing a flurry of pollen into the air.
In late summer however, it’s the red berries of this plant that dot the forest floor. Their leaves are worn and streaked with burgundy, duller versions of the fresh green plants that brightened the ground back in June.
These bland tasting berries are edible but far less enjoyable to the palate than the blackberries available in the wild at this time of year. Yet children often enjoy them and find them easy to pick. Berries can be found on plants consisting of six leaves. Also known as dwarf dogwood, the plant will acquire an overall burgundy color later in the fall. Berries dry as the season progresses, providing food for deer, moose, grouse and songbirds.
With a preference for acidic woods, bunchberries often grow in partially shaded spots. They are known to neutralize the effects of acid rain.
Known as Cornus canadensis in Latin, bunchberries are native to northern North America and have a history of being used medicinally for kidney ailments, to lower fevers and treat infant colic. Leaves have been applied topically to stop bleeding and heal wounds. Berries can be made into a poultice to treat burns or taken internally to help counteract the negative effects of ingesting poisonous plants. Their use is being investigated for cancer treatment.
High in pectin, berries can also be made into jellies and puddings. In the fall, they were gathered by native people by the bushel full and later either frozen or stored in bear fat for use in winter. The berries are thought to promote mental strength and clarity which is reason enough to give them a try.