Thursday, August 14, 2008

Interesting Woodland Berries - Mostly Poisonous

While hiking in Temperance River and Tettegouche State Parks along the North Shore last week, we noted a variety of berries - some familiar and a couple not familiar at all.

Red baneberry (Actaea rubra) - poisonous; nearly identical to its close relation, white baneberry (below).

White baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) - poisonous. Also known as Doll's Eyes because the black dot on the smooth white berry is reminiscent of the eyes of china dolls. (This is what I love about wildflowers -- they have such wonderfully descriptive traditional names. One of my favorite such names is Bastard Toadflax. They don't make names like that anymore.)

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) - a member of the dogwood family, with pretty, flat, four-petaled flowers in the spring that are similar to the flowers of the wild strawberry (which is unrelated, being a member of the rose family). These berries are edible and sometimes used for jelly; one source notes, "edible but hardly worth it due to the single hard seed at the center to which the edible part clings tenaciously."

Bluebead Lily (Clintonia borealis) - thought to be mildly toxic. These were new to me. They don't look as if you'd want to eat them; their blue is just a little too lurid, or metallic. The photo below gives a better view of the long, smooth, lily-style leaf of this plant; the one above has a better bunch of berries but if you look closely you can see that the stem protrudes deceptively through unrelated leaves.

Bluebead Lily (Clintonia borealis) again - see note above.

Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) - a large raspberry-like berry on a sprawling plant with huge maple-like leaves; related to the raspberry and the rose. I had never seen or heard of these until just the day before, while reading the wonderful book A Place in the Woods, by Helen Hoover (that will have to be the subject of another post). Hoover and her husband, professionals from Chicago, made an abrupt change of lifestyle in the late 1940s and moved to a cabin in the north woods near the Gunflint Trail. She mentions thimbleberry jam, and I had been wondering what a thimbleberry was.

And, of course, there were familiar wild raspberries, of which we picked a few -- and enjoyed them exceedingly.

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JLK said...

Hi Penny, I was just up on the North Shore last weekend and saw many of the same berries myself. I wondered what many of the shiny berries were and thanks to you now have names for them.

We discovered thimbleberries many years ago as we traditionally took a camping vacation at Tettegouche at the end of the summer. After passing them by for many years we spoke to a ranger who told us that they were edible and we've enjoyed them since them.

Anonymous said...

I just realized that my previous post obscured my identity!

Unknown said...

Jody! Thanks for identifying yourself. Anyway, good to hear from you.