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Tales of the plump and poisonous - Best North Shore - Best North Shore

Tales of the plump and poisonous


Caution: Sassy, deadly berries ahead

The North Shore is awash in berries right now. The raspberries are ripe, but they hide discreetly under leaves. The blueberries are coming along and should be ready in a week or two.

But watch out for the poisonous ones! They’re out now, they look terrific, but they’ll ruin your day.

I hiked from the Caribou Trail to Lutsen yesterday on the Superior Hiking Trail. The woods were awash with these brash and brightly colored berries that demand attention. They were “in my face.”

The fruits are almost pornographically plump. The colors are nearly artificial against the woodland groundcover. It’s like they’re genetically programmed to say, “Eat Me.”

Above is the red baneberry, Actaea rubra. In my copy of A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants, this one gets a skull and crossbones next to it. The book says, “A few berries can cause severe dizziness and vomiting.”

The red baneberry’s sister plant is the white baneberry, Actaea pachypoda:

It was in fruit along the SHT as well. The white baneberry is also known as “Doll’s eyes.” The white waxy berries have little black dots like eyeballs. Peterson gives this one a skull and crossbones too.

Yeah, these plants are saying, “Eat me.” You probably won’t die. But you will be tossing your cookies real soon.

In fact, that is just what the plant wants: you’re spreading the seeds tucked inside those berries.

As a blueberry picker, I’m most tuned into the bluebead lily, Clintonia borealis:

I get that “search image” of a small round blue fruit. As I bend over to find and pick the real blueberries from their low-growing shrubs, I’ll often find these puppies sticking way out above the real blueberries. Man, do they scream, “Eat Me!” Peterson doesn’t give the bluebead lily the skull and crossbones, so they might not kill you. They get just a short description as “Inedible.” Maybe the idea is you try to eat one, it’s awful, and you spit it out a few yards away. That’s seed dispersal too.

If nature is all about the survival of the fittest, these plants are survival of the plumpest.


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