The Red Baneberry: All You Need to Know about this Poisonous Berry


The Red Baneberry (Actaea rubra) is a native perennial wildflower that can be found in the woods of eastern North America, from Vermont to the Adirondacks, and as far west as Minnesota. It belongs to the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) and is also known as Doll’s-eyes due to its distinctive white berries with black dots resembling human eyes. The scientific name, Actaea rubra, comes from the Greek word for torch, which refers to the use of the plant’s stems in ancient times for making torches.

The Red Baneberry has an interesting distribution pattern, as it is most common in the northeastern United States, particularly in the states of New England, but it can also be found in Canada and the Midwest. It grows in a variety of habitats, from damp woods to dry slopes, and can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions. However, it prefers rich, well-drained soil and can often be found growing near streams or on the edges of woods.

This wildflower produces small white flowers in late spring and early summer, which are arranged in elongated racemes at the tips of the stems. Each flower has five small greenish-white petals and numerous yellow stamens that are covered in pollen. The flowers are pollinated by insects, particularly bees, which are attracted to the nectar produced by glands at the base of each petal.

After pollination, the Red Baneberry produces small round berries that are initially green but turn bright red as they mature. These berries are toxic to humans, but they are an important food source for many wildlife species, including birds and small mammals. The berries are dispersed by animals, who eat them and then excrete the seeds, allowing new plants to grow in different areas.

The Red Baneberry is a slow-growing plant that spreads through underground rhizomes, as well as through the production of plantlets at the base of the stem. It is often grown in native plant nurseries and can be used in woodland gardens or naturalized areas. Despite its toxic berries, the Red Baneberry is still highly regarded for its striking appearance and delicate foliage.

In conclusion, the Red Baneberry is a native wildflower with a beautiful display of flowers and striking berries. While its berries are toxic to humans, they provide an important food source for wildlife. The plant’s distribution is mainly restricted to the eastern part of North America, but it can also be found in parts of Canada and the Midwest. Whether used for its aesthetic appeal or to attract wildlife, the Red Baneberry is a fascinating plant worth exploring.

Wildflowers of the Adirondacks: Red Baneberry (Actaea rubra)

The Red Baneberry (Actaea rubra) is a wildflower native to the Adirondack Mountains in New York, as well as other parts of North America. It is a member of the buttercup family and is known for its striking red berries and delicate white flowers.

The Red Baneberry is sometimes confused with its close relative, White Baneberry (Actaea pachypoda), which has white berries. However, there are some key differences between the two. The Red Baneberry has red berries and its leaves are usually more deeply divided. Additionally, the Red Baneberry tends to prefer shaded conditions, whereas the White Baneberry can often be found in backyard gardens.

Red Baneberry plants typically grow to about 2-3 feet tall and have compound leaves that are divided into three to five toothed leaflets. The leaflets are thick, with a serrated edge, and are often paler in color on the underside. The flowers are small, white, and appear in clusters on tall stems. They have numerous stamens and a sweet scent, attracting pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

The Red Baneberry blooms from May to July, while the berries ripen in late summer and early fall. The berries are round and shiny, and can persist on the plant throughout the winter. However, it is important to note that the berries are highly toxic and should not be ingested.

Red Baneberry plants can be found in a variety of habitats, including moist woodlands, shaded slopes, and along stream banks. They are most commonly found in northern and eastern parts of North America, including the Adirondack Mountains. The species has a wide distribution, occurring from Maine and eastern Canada, south to Georgia, and west to Minnesota.

Red Baneberry plants reproduce through seeds, which are dispersed by birds and other animals that eat the berries. The seeds have a hard outer coating and typically require a period of winter coldness, called stratification, in order to germinate. They can remain dormant in the soil for several years before sprouting.

In the Adirondack Mountains, the Red Baneberry is considered a native species of special concern. Its populations have declined in recent years due to habitat loss and other factors. However, the plant is still relatively common in certain areas, especially along hiking trails.

For those interested in growing Red Baneberry plants in their own gardens, it’s important to note that they have specific habitat requirements and may not thrive in all conditions. They prefer moist, shaded areas with rich, well-drained soil. It’s also worth mentioning that the plants may take several years to reach maturity.

In conclusion, the Red Baneberry is a striking wildflower native to the Adirondack Mountains and other parts of North America. Its bright red berries and delicate white flowers make it a beautiful addition to any garden. However, it’s important to exercise caution when handling the plant, as its berries are toxic. With the right conditions and care, the Red Baneberry can be successfully grown in backyard gardens and enjoyed for many years to come.

Identification of Red Baneberry

Red Baneberry, also known as Actaea rubra, is a perennial plant that belongs to the buttercup family. It is native to many regions in North America, including the northeastern United States and parts of Canada.


The leaves of Red Baneberry are large and compound, with 2-3 leaflets. They are deeply lobed and have a dark green color. Red Baneberry leaves are present from early spring to late fall.


The stem of Red Baneberry is erect and can reach a height of up to 2 feet. It is typically green in color, but may have slight reddish hues. The stem is usually covered with fine hairs.


The flowers of Red Baneberry appear in clusters in late spring or early summer. They are small and white, with many long stamens. The flowers are followed by fruit, which ripens in late summer or early fall.


The fruits of Red Baneberry are bright red berries that are round and shiny. They are about the size of a pea and are borne in clusters. The berries are toxic to humans and should not be consumed.

Red Baneberry can be found in a variety of habitats, such as wetlands, woods, and forest edges. It prefers moist soil and shady conditions. It is commonly seen in the Adirondacks region.

If you are uncertain about the identification of Red Baneberry, you can use a dichotomous key or seek the help of a local plant expert. Online resources and field guides can also be helpful in identifying this plant.

It is important to note that there is another species called White Baneberry (Actaea pachypoda), which closely resembles Red Baneberry. They can be distinguished by the color of their berries – White Baneberry has white berries instead of red.

Please be cautious when handling Red Baneberry as its sap can cause skin irritation. If you have any concerns about this plant or suspect it may be growing in your backyard, it is best to seek advice from local gardening services or conservation authorities.

In summary, Red Baneberry is a perennial plant with compound leaves, erect stems, and clusters of small white flowers. It bears bright red berries that are toxic. It can be commonly found in the Adirondacks region and is a cherished sight for nature enthusiasts.

Uses of Red Baneberry

The Red Baneberry, known by its scientific name Actaea rubra, is a pretty wildflower that is native to North America. It is part of the family Ranunculaceae and is widely seen in forests, wetlands, and shady areas in the northeast of the United States.

One of the key characteristics of the Red Baneberry is its bright red fruits, which are present in clusters on branching pedicels. These fruits can often be confused with berries, but they are actually poisonous to humans and many animals. The red color of the fruits is caused by a floral pigment called callicarpenal, which serves as a defense mechanism against herbivory.

The leaves of the Red Baneberry are alternate in forma and have a unique shape. They are large, with deeply lobed leaflets that are sharply toothed. The leaves tend to have a deep green color, which adds to the beauty of this wildflower.

One of the uses of Red Baneberry is in gardening. Although it is not suitable for consumption or use as a herbal remedy due to its toxicity, some people still like to include it in their gardens for its ornamental value. The bright red fruits and attractive leaves make it an interesting addition to flower beds or woodland gardens.

Another interesting aspect of the Red Baneberry is its ecological importance. The fruits of this plant are an important food source for birds, particularly the white-footed squirrel and the American jackrabbit. The high caloric value of the fruits makes them a valuable food source, especially in the fall when other food sources may be scarce.

In addition, the Red Baneberry also plays a role in the pollination of other plants. Its flowers produce nectar that attracts bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. By visiting the flowers of the Red Baneberry, these pollinators inadvertently transfer pollen to other plants, helping them reproduce.

Overall, the Red Baneberry is a fascinating wildflower with both aesthetic and ecological value. Its bright red fruits and attractive leaves make it a popular choice for gardeners, while its role as a food source and pollinator make it an important part of the ecosystem. However, it is important to exercise caution and avoid consumption of the poisonous fruits.

✿ Read More About Woody Shrubs.

Dr Heidi Parkes

By Dr Heidi Parkes

Senior Information Extension Officer QLD Dept of Agriculture & Fisheries.