- Name also: European Baneberry (USA)
- Family: Buttercup Family – Ranunculaceae
- Growing form: Perennial herb. Rootstock short, oblique, woody.
- Height: 30–50 cm (12–20 in.). Stem shiny, curving mildly from nodes, base with 3–4 scales.
- Flower: Perianth regular (actinomorphic), white (sometimes reddish), 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 15–20. A single carpel. Inflorescence a short, dense raceme, sometimes 2–3 racemes. Flower lacking fragrance.
- Leaves: Alternate, basal leaves long-stalked, stem leaves short-stalked and smaller. Blade triangular, often yellowish or bluish green, with 4–5 leaflets. Secondary leaflets elliptic–ovate, with quite tapering tips, with large-toothed margins, almost glabrous. Terminal leaflet base usually blunt–tapered, central lobe clearly longer than lateral lobes and tooth at tip clearly longer than margin teeth.
- Fruit: Egg-shaped, red when ripe, green when young, under 10 mm (0.4 in.) wide berry.
- Habitat: Dryish broad-leaved forests, stream banks, river banks and bottoms of rocky precipices.
- Flowering time: June.
There are only a dozen baneberry species, and two grow in Finland. Red baneberry is an eastern taiga species which grows in the broad-leaved forests of Lapland and the north-east of Finland – further south its place is taken by baneberry (A. spicata). The species can be differentiated by their leaves: red baneberry’s are more delicate, with four or even five leaflets, light green and they turn yellow earlier. Recognising the species purely on the basis of the leaves demands precision; the best identification marker is the colour of the ripe berries, which are red on red baneberry and black on banberry. A. rubra, in USA known as red baneberry (also chinaberry, doll’s eye) is a native of the American continent that is chiefly grown in Finland as an ornamental. It also has red ripe berries, so the species must be differentiated by examining the leaves. A. rubra doesn’t really grow in the wild, so the species can usually be told apart by the habitat alone.
Red baneberry used to be named after Saint Christopher in central Europe because the plant was believed to be able to ward off the plague. The red berries are highly poisonous, but they look delicious and children are known to have died from eating them. The berries are probably poisonous to at least a number of mammals, but birds can happily eat them and spread their seeds.