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Dwarf Cornel

Cornus suecica

  • Name also: Bunchberry, Swedish Cornel, Lapland Cornel, Eurasian Dwarf Cornel
  • Family: Dogwood Family – Cornaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Rootstock horizontal, with runners, thin. Forms dense stands.
  • Height: 10–25 cm (4–10 in.). Stem 4-edged.
  • Flower: Inflorescence like a flower, base with 4 petaloid, white upper leaves (bracts); inflorescence with 10–20 regular, almost black flowers approx. 1 mm (0.04 in.) across. Corolla 4-leaved. Calyx unclearly 4-lobed. Stamens 4. Gynoecium fused, single-styled, With 1–4 stigmas.
  • Leaves: Opposite, short-stalked–stalkless. Blade ovate–elliptic, parallel-veined, with entire margins, underside bluish green.
  • Fruit: Long, red, shiny, juicy, approx. 5 mm (0.2 in.) broad, 2-seeded drupe. Berries in bunches terminating stem.
  • Habitat: Sea and lake shores, river banks, swamps, bog edges. In the north also in young mountain birch woodland, fell heaths.
  • Flowering time: June–July.

Despite its small size, dwarf cornel beautifies its habitats from the beginning of summer until late autumn. It spreads through its rootstock in a dense covering which bursts into flower in June–July. Dwarf cornel’s umbellate inflorescence looks deceptively large for a single flower: the white parts that are usually taken for the petals are actually the upper leaves of the stem and its tiny bluish black flowers are crammed in between them in a dense group. Dwarf cornel is rare in that it has black flowers – pollinators are attracted by the showy upper leaves. After flowering, beautiful shiny red drupes the size of quite large lingonberries develop in the crown. The berries aren’t poisonous, but they are not very tasty either, so they have never become part of the human diet. The berries taste good to birds, however, and the seeds get a good start in life when they are deposited with the bird’s droppings. Fowl in particular like to eat the berries and spread the plant to new places.

At the end of the growing season dwarf cornel turns a red, often purplish brown. At least in the north it is one of the more important elements of the ruska, the name for that special time in the autumn when the colours are at their most intense, because the species is most common and abundant there. Dwarf cornel’s habitat is limited by climatic factors: it demands damp maritime conditions or a cool climate with little evaporation. In Lapland it is most abundant in Kilpisjärvi’s damp environment but in more continental climates it favours bogs, coasts and river valleys. Dwarf cornel also thrives on the coast of the Baltic Sea and archipelago, and stands along the Gulf of Bothnia are seamlessly linked to northern stands. Inland, in southern and central Finland, the species grows disjointedly in swamps. Of dwarf cornel’s relatives in Finland, Siberian dogwood (C. alba) and common dogwood (C. sanguinea) are grown as shrubs, and it is strange that dwarf cornel has never become a popular ornamental.

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