Bunchberry v Painted Trillium

In reply to a question in a comment by Waldo Tomosky on my previous post …

Question about the “bunchberries”: the leaves look like Trillium. Are bunchberries the fruit of Trillium?
Nice home you have built. I love the size. Just right. You must be in heaven.

If it ain’t heaven, it ought to be.    

Yep … the house is a mini-2BR, 784 sq ft, (28×28), on a 4-ft crawl space that would have been a full basement if I’d had a lot more money.  But there’s still a lot of good, dry, constant-temperature storage space down there.

I would not want anything bigger, except for the addition of a garage that I could not afford.  Maybe I can scrounge up a carport some day.

I can see where the bunchberry leaves could put you in mind of trillium.  Depending on what flavor trillium (all the ones at Balsamea are of the painted variety, not the red, white or purple ones), and what its stage of growth and condition, varying with soil, etc., sometimes trillium leaves do look like bunchberry leaves, but there’s a very telling difference: trillium is always three-leaved.  Bunchberry is four to six.  Trillium flowers always have three petals.  Bunchberry has four (actually they are bracts, not petals, but go pick on a botanist about that).  Trillium is also tall and slender.  Bunchberries are … bunchy and short.

It is a sin that I don’t have a picture of a trillium berry.  I’ll have to watch for them next year.  Not many of our plants get a berry.  This year our one plant that reliably gets a berry got eaten before it had the chance to fruit.  Anyhow, it is a single red berry somewhat teardrop shaped, standing on top of the stem with its point upward.  It seems to me the berry is green most of its life before going briefly red.

Here are some pix of bunchberry and our painted trillium for comparison.  As always, click for enlargements (I keep saying this for the sake of people who are not web-savvy about such things).  Mouse-hover on a picture to see the captions.

I really enjoy bunchberries.  We have lots of them in patches up to about 30 feet long.  They prefer the trail edges that get more light than our typical densely shaded forest floor, but not where there is a lot of direct sunlight.

Our painted trillium, on the other hand, love the shade.  They hide away where often you won’t know they are there from just walking along the trails.  That is, they don’t need the extra light accorded by the trail space.

They prefer areas where we have a lot of oak leaves or beech leaves, but I have a few growing amidst solid pine needle “carpeting,” too.  I found lots of them by following the oak leaves on the ground.

Copyright © 2013 TheBalsamean.comWe also have a lot of them collecting in one area with an especially large number of sugar maples.  So I guess the hardwood places offer the trillium something they don’t have in our otherwise evergreen dominated woods.

All photos taken at Balsamea over the past several years.  Enjoy.  Love the questions.


  1. Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) – August 6, 2013

  2. Nibbles of Balsamea (large collection of flower thumbnail images) – May 24, 2013

  3. Spring 2013 – Early April – May 18, 2013 … best shots of British Soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella), maple buds, great pussy willow close-ups, violets

  4. Wildflowers extend lawn mower life and inspire love – June 3, 2012 … red and white clover, daisies, blackberry and more

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