White Baneberry (Doll’s Eyes)

Actaea pachypoda

white_baneberry_fruits_12-30-13.jpg

Photo of white baneberry berries
Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action Plan, Bugwood.org
Poisonous
Family

Ranunculaceae (crowfoots, buttercups)

Description

A single-stemmed herbaceous perennial. Flowers many, tiny, in a tight, oblong or rounded inflorescence on a long stem. The sepals and petals fall off as the flowers open, leaving a mass of white stamens and pistils. Blooms May–June. Leaves are 3-times compound, on very long stems, with both lateral and terminal leaflets oblong, coarsely toothed, and on petioles. Fruits in open clusters, white berries with a purplish-black “eye” (the "doll's eyes"), each on a dark red stalk.

Size

Height: to 30 inches.

Habitat and conservation

Occurs in deep, rich woods and ravines, usually on north-facing slopes and at the bases of bluffs. This native species is becoming popular for woodland plantings and shade gardens; it offers intricate white flower clusters, interesting foliage, similar to that of astilbe, and the attractive white berries in the fall. Because the berries are both attractive and extremely toxic, it should not be planted where young children spend time.

image of White Baneberry Doll’s Eyes distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Found in the eastern half of Missouri, extending as far west as Moniteau, Camden, Dallas, Greene, Christian, and Barry counties, and (in the north) west to Livingston, Holt, and Atchison counties.

Human connections

The berries are poisonous, along with the rest of the plant. As they did with many other plants having such a formidable blend of chemicals, Native Americans and white settlers used the root medicinally. Today, we enjoy the way the pretty berries brighten the autumn woods.

Ecosystem connections

Often, fruits serve to attract herbivores that consume them and disperse the undigested seeds. The berries of this plant, however, are toxic to most mammals, which won't eat them, although some birds do. Often, the berries persist on the plant, so baneberry is often found in small colonies.