This fall—in the yard and in the woods—be on the lookout for deceptively beautiful berries. Some of these berries are poisonous. Even if you don’t plan to pop a berry into your mouth, it’s helpful to know which plants in the landscape have poisonous berries. Here are the most common poison berries of fall.
Poisonous Berries in Fall
If your kids have been active participants in berry picking all summer long, let them know that not all berries are okay to eat. Teach them not to put anything in their mouths that has not been checked by a knowledgeable adult first. Don’t eat any berry that you cannot positively identify because mistakes can be fatal! Don’t rely on animals as an indicator of whether or not something is edible. Birds often eat berries that are poisonous to humans.
- Privet is widely grown as a hedge but if eaten, its leaves and black berries are toxic to humans and dogs.
- Yews are another commonly grown shrub. The red berries are not toxic but the seeds contained within them can be if enough berries are consumed.
- Elderberry also contain poisonous seeds in their berries. To safely eat the berries they must be cooked first. Jams, jellies, syrups, wine, and pie made from elderberries are delicious but do not eat the raw berries. They contain cyanide-like properties and can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and coma. See how to make elderberry syrup.
- Laburnum is often called the golden rain or golden chain tree for its lovely cascades of yellow flowers. After blossoming it forms pods full of pea-like seeds that can cause vomiting, convulsions, and coma when eaten.
- Virginia creeper is a fast-growing perennial vine that is found in many gardens. Its small blue berries are highly toxic and can be fatal to humans if eaten. Birds love the berries however and can enjoy them with impunity.
- Burning bush (Euonymous alata) is an invasive shrub that is still found in many gardens. All parts of this plant are toxic and in the fall it produces bright red-orange berries to tempt the unwary. Just another reason to eliminate this plant from your landscape.
- Lily-of-the-valley is another beauty that is totally poisonous. The red berries it produces in fall are especially attractive to toddlers since they are so close to the ground. See our Growing Guide on Lilly of the Valley.
- Pokeweed is a commonly found weed growing at the edges of cultivated land. Birds eat the dark purple berries and deposit the seeds where they alight, spreading the plants everywhere. Humans and other mammals are not so lucky and eating just a few of these delicious-looking berries can prove fatal. To distinguish them from grapes, look for the red stems.
- Daphnes are popular spring-flowering shrubs. Unfortunately all parts of the plant are poisonous to humans and other mammals. In the fall they produce berries that can cause severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and lethargy when eaten.
When walking in the woods this fall, keep an eye out for some of these poison berries:
- Baneberry is a member of the buttercup family (Ranunculus) which includes many beautiful but deadly plants. Both red (Actea rubra) and white (Actea pachypoda) baneberry have poisonous berries that can cause cardiac arrest if eaten. The white berries have black spots on them earning them the common name doll’s eyes.
- Jack-in-the-pulpit is another woodland plant that produces a cluster of shiny red berries in the fall. They won’t kill you if eaten but can cause blisters in your mouth. If you must handle the berries, wash your hands well before touching your eyes, mouth, or nose - or wear gloves for protection.
- Bittersweet has showy orange and yellow berries prized for fall decorations. All parts of the plant are poisonous to humans and pets, though birds and squirrels love the berries. Birds eat the berries, depositing seeds everywhere which has contributed to the spread of the invasive, non-native Oriental bittersweet.
Of course, there are also some wild berries that are delicious and safe to eat! Many have powerful antioxidants and health benefits. Examples include: huckleberries, gooseberries, chokeberries, and saskatoon berries.
Don’t let fear of being poisoned stop you from enjoying the outdoors. Instead turn this into an opportunity to learn more about the natural world around you and respect the power of plants!