fruit you definitely don’t eat

FRUITING SEASON is beginning here in the perennial beds and shrubberies at A Way to Garden, but some of the early crop (like the red baneberry, Actaea rubra, above, a native woodlander) isn’t fit for eating…unless you’re a bird or mouse.

Birds have already decimated my shadbushes (Amelanchier species), whose fruits I have also eaten on occasion (not bad). And there’s no competing against the birds and chipmunks for the lowbush blueberries.


But with the baneberry (which has creamy April blooms, left) and with shrubby Daphne mezereum (fragrant purple flowers then, too) and some other showy creatures in their second glory right now, the fruit is poisonous to humans. The baneberry, apparently, is more fit for thrushes (including robins), sapsuckers and catbirds, along with chipmunks, mice and the lot. So I get to admire it, and then they get to eat it. Not a bad deal.

Arum italicum, which I don’t have, would also qualify: showy orangey-red summer fruit, but apparently toxic. Do you grow any perennials or small shrubs that have not just flowers but also colorful fruit? Of course soon the larger fruiting creatures like viburnums will be happening big-time.

And do you worry about whether plants in your garden are in fact “poisonous”? There are many lists out there offering information about what is and isn’t: Cornell’s is specifically geared to their effect on livestock, however, and the ASPCA’s is not surprisingly of plants pets are likely to interact with. Unless you have a better source, perhaps?

  1. Brian G. says:

    Most of the plants I admire, it seems, are poisonous. Just works out that way. Narcissus, Helleborus, Aconitum (I’m literally afraid of this plant. I put on double gloves when they arrived mail order this Spring!) Even the little buttercups I mow around could probably do me in. But, I love them all. Deer won’t eat them either!
    On the non-deadly side, I have four large Sambuscus nigra ‘Black Beauty’ (Elderberry) in tubs ready to go into the ground in front of the porch to screen from the road. I don’t plan on making jam or wine. The entire crop is ‘For the Birds”! Oh yeah, I said it.

  2. Terri says:

    There is nothing as aromatic in January around our neck of the woods than sarcccocca and they do end up producing black, shiny gem like berries underneath there ruffled skirts. Wonderful plants to place by high traffic areas. And didn’t Cimacifuga just get re-classified as an Actea???

  3. margaret says:

    Hi, Terri. Yes, sweetbox would be wonderful, but I am a zone or so too cold for it at least. And you are also right on the latter detail: The Cimicifuga clan got reclassified as Actaea by the taxonomic types, but hey, they said Coleus is Solenostemon awhile back, too, and who’s saying that tongue-twister?

  4. Terri says:

    I know, and the first name I learn is about all I can remember at this stage in life- but now when I look at Actea I do so see the family resemblance with its taller cousin. The botany of things is ever more interesting to me as I walk down the garden path. Have a great July 4th!

  5. Catherine L. says:

    Among plants that are poisonous, such as sweet pea and caster bean, is it okay to compost these plants in the compost with everything else?

  6. Wendy Smith says:

    I planted a Daphne. mezereum Ruba shrub in March -April, could please tell me what the green pea like things are that are growing on the stems, and should they be there.

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