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Baneberry

Actaea spicata

  • Name also: Herb Christopher, Common Baneberry, Bugbane, Toadroot
  • Family: Buttercup Family – Ranunculaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Rootstock short, oblique, woody.
  • Height: 30–70 cm (12–28 in.). Stem shiny, angularly curved from nodes, base with 3–4 scales.
  • Flower: Perianth regular (actinomorphic), white, approx. 1 cm (0.4 in.) wide. Petals (0–)4–5, narrow-based. Sepals (0–)4–5, sharp-tipped. Corolla and calyx shorter than stamens, withering early. Stamens 15–25. A single carpel. Inflorescence a dense, erect raceme, sometimes 2–3 racemes. Flower weakly fragrant.
  • Leaves: Alternate, basal leaves long-stalked, stem leaves short-stalked and smaller. Blade triangular, wider than long, darkish green, usually with 3 leaflets. Secondary leaflets elliptic–widely ovate, with large-toothed margin, almost glabrous. Terminal leaflet base usually cordate–blunt, central lobe slightly longer than lateral lobes, tooth at tip slightly longer than margin teeth.
  • Fruit: Egg-shaped, black when ripe, green when young, 12–14 mm (0.48–0.56 in.) wide berry.
  • Habitat: Dryish broad-leaved forests, especially shady ridges, foot of cliffs and precipices, stream banks. Calciphile in north.
  • Flowering time: May–June.

All parts of baneberry contain poisonous compounds and sensitive people can get symptoms just from touching the stems. Its leaves can be up to half a metre (20 in.) long and almost as wide. The inflorescence is modest in relation to the size of the plant: even in bunches it has only two or three stems which have only a few dozen flowers. Baneberry attracts its pollinators in shady broad-leaved forests with its bright white flowers and its fragrance: some people liken it to fresh grapefruit, while others find it disgusting. In broad-leaved forests pollinators include a fruitworm species Byturus ochraceus, which lives in herb Bennet (Geum urbanum). Around fields close to the edge of the forest it might also be visited by rape blossom beetles. The plants are pollinated by flies in coniferous forests where beetles are not present. Baneberry also self-pollinates and unfertilised flowers also develop into berries – although there is reason to suspect if seeds from unfertilized flowers actually germinate.

In Lapland and the north-east of Finland baneberry is replaced by red baneberry (A. erythrocarpa), which can be differentiated by its more lobed (4–5 times pinnately lobed) and lighter coloured leaves, as well as its red berries.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family
Trees and bushes from the same family

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