Red baneberry.

Red baneberry FP

This is one of those “Look but don’t eat” plants: Red baneberry (Actaea rubra) is a very beautiful woodland herbaceous perennial, but all parts of it are poisonous. As an interesting – and decidedly creepy – sidenote, one of its common names is “doll’s eye.”

This specimen was eyeballed (couldn’t resist!) at a campground in southern Alberta, but red baneberry has a fairly wide distribution in the province.  It’s not a plant you’d find in a typical garden setting, however…although if you had a shady, moist spot, you could try it. Baneberry is one of the featured plants at the Reader Rock Garden here in Calgary, where it thrives in the dappled shade beneath large trees.

I don’t currently have any extremely toxic plants in my flower garden; I grew foxglove for a few years but haven’t tried any again since they died.  My flowerbeds are on public property and it’s for the best that I don’t grow anything dangerous.  Lately, I keep running into people who seem to think all plants are for the sampling – and it’s not just this lady and her young daughter that I wrote about last year.   I recently talked to someone who seemed to think you could make tea out of any plant that smelled good, and another gardener who chewed on a mystery plant without having the foggiest notion what it was (she still doesn’t know, and neither do I, but apparently it tasted a little like sorrel.  She didn’t report on whether or not she got a stomach ache).  I’m delighted that everyone is so eager to chow down on fresh vegetative matter, but you’d think self-preservation would be more of a concern!   🙂

Do you grow any poisonous plants in your garden?  Do you take any special precautions to keep them out of the reach of children and pets?

[Post updated 17 June 2022]


  1. Thanks for the post, I found this interesting as I’ve wondered myself about the ethics of planting poisonous plants. I have given in to having several yew shrubs in my backyard (which is fenced off from wandering neighbourhood children and dogs). Consulting a U.K. site on poisonous plants, I guess I have a few others as well including spring narcissus, fritillaria and winter aconite. I think it basically comes down to being knowledgeable about what one grows and if one has the opportunity to educate, then seize that opportunity (for instance, letting the neighbour with two small children and a dog know that the monkshood she has planted in her front yard is poisonous). I have really enjoyed reading your blog: thoughtful and informative!

    • Thanks so much, Barbara! You’re right – it definitely is all about making a point of learning and sharing the knowledge with others.

      Hope your summer is going well! I’m so happy that we finally have some lovely sunshine and warmth! 🙂

  2. Backyard foraging seems to be a bit of the rage at the moment. I have seen a number of books on the subject and the Globe and Mail had a big spread on foraging on the west coast.
    Maybe because it is shiny and looks almost plastic or maybe it’s the eyes, but this doesn’t look like any berry I would ever want to eat. As a garden plant though, it has lots of charm.

    • I agree – this doesn’t look in the slightest bit edible, does it? Sure is pretty, though! I’ve noticed the foraging trend as well; I even found a cookbook for foraged food at work the other day. What really, really worries me are people who go out seeking mushrooms without an expert guide or knowledge. Hunting for mushrooms is something I would like to do myself but I’m really way too frightened of making a mistake.

  3. I am always pulling up deadly nightshade, which grows as a weed in my hedges. I grow Digitalis, which can be toxic. There are probably a few others but I can’t think of them. It’s horrifying to think of people ingesting plants they know nothing about – you have to hope these people do not have children.

  4. I’m a bit of a foraging chicken as I need to know 1000% what something is before it goes in my mouth. I was wondering if you might have a good book recommendation for edible berries and plants for western Canada?

  5. I do not think I have any dangerous plants on my property. I know that some people think you can eat anything so this post is a good reminder that plants can be poison.

  6. Marcie and I were taught from a very young age that the only wild plants we were allowed to eat were the tiny wild strawberries (still my faves) and saskatoons. Everything else was off limits, actually, I think Mom probably told us everything else would kill us. When you have two young kids who spend a lot of time in the bush on their own you have to be scary.

  7. I try not to plant anything poisonous but these plants have a place in nature too,so I think we need to be responsible and educate ourselves and our children about them and not simply banish them.

  8. And those berries would look so good on top of my cake today…. 😉 I learned as a child never to touch berries or seeds, and only a few plants were “touchables”, like daisies, or buttercups and dandelions! This year I grew some Ricinus communis (Castor oil plant) from seed and two plants are now flowering. I set them in the middle of the rockery where nobody can get to them except me. (They do look impressive!) And the seeds will be removed carefully before they drop.

    • I wonder if perhaps our parents or guardians tried harder or took more time to impart this kind of knowledge…nowadays everyone seems too busy or maybe they simply do not know enough to tell their children. I lived in a rural area when I was a child, so I suppose wild plants were all “closer to home” for me.

      Castor oil plants are beautiful; I’m glad they have performed so well for you!

  9. In my childhood my parents grew Laburnum in the garden and many relatives were against it. But we kids were told, not to touch and we didn´t. Each generation has its own toxic stuff and the kids learn in the kindergarden not to touch dead birds (bird disease) or come to close to oak trees (Caterpillars of oak processionary moth) and so on. People have to inform. Within the last years we have got quiet a number of Digitalis-plants by the wind. 😉

  10. I believe in all that everyone has written. I’m wondering how to handle and remove the red and white baneberry that’s in my yard so it doesn’t return if all parts are poisonous. Thanks for your help 🙂

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