Baneberry and Doll’s Eyes

Blog post 2

Red Baneberry

Baneberries (Actaea spp.)  are one of my favorite woodland species.  The two species found in the Northeast are Actaea rubra, the red baneberry and Actaea pachypoda, often referred to Doll’s eyes. Bloom times often overlap with A. rubra blooming in Late May and Early June and A. pachypoda blooming in June.  The white bottlebrush flowers are very attractive and in cultivation, both species form large plants and eventually colonies. The pollinators are typically beetles, bees and flies. Both species produce only pollen and not nectar.

Doll’s Eyes

The bright red showy berries of Red baneberry appear in June or July and are eaten fairly quickly by small mammals and birds.  Doll’s Eyes bear fruit considerably later in the season with the fruit ripening in August and persisting into the Autumn. As of this blog post I have still seen a few Doll’s eyes in fruit. I can only surmise that they are not as tasty as the Red baneberry and not eaten until small animals are a bit hungrier.  Typically, the birds that will consume the berries are Thrushes and thrashers:  Robins, Wood thrush, Grey catbird and brown thrashers.  The mammals that eat baneberry are deer mice, chipmunks, red squirrels and voles.

Wood Thrush

The foliage is toxic to mammals (and contains cardiac glycosides). This makes baneberry a good choice if you have a large deer population nearby.  The foliage and fruit are toxic to humans.

Bane comes from old English, bana and means murderer or slayer and refers to the toxicity of the berries.  While there are no known cases of North American species causing death, the European species Actaea spicata is said to have caused the death of small children who consumed them (Muenscher, 1939).

 

Uses attributed to the Native Americans are to treat snakebite, for heart ailments and for fertility or menstrual difficulties (Moerman, 1998).  I am always skeptical of uses attributed to native peoples since accounts of these are heavily colonized and usually written by Europeans.

All said, the these two Actaeas are lovely plants to observe in the wild or cultivate in the garden.

 

 

Moerman, D. E. (1998). Native American Ethnobotany. Timber Press.

Muenscher, W. C. (1939). Poisonous Plants of the United States. Macmillan Co.

Sanders, J. (2003). The Secrets of Wildflowers. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press.

The photos and content of this publication are the property of Drew Monthie and may not be reproduced without permission.