Poisonous BerriesMany of the beautiful plants we choose for our gardens produce berries. A large percentage of these berry-producing plants are responsible for deaths every year.

A Fatal Feast.

A host of plants produce tasty looking berries that could be a last meal for anyone unwise enough to sample them.

Boston Ivy produces 8mm, spherical, dark blue berries. They appear in singular clusters that are very similar in appearance to grapes.

English Ivy has small dark purple berries which appear in clusters. They look similar to Black Currents in shape, dimension, and colour, which children could easily mistake them as. They are produced from late winter through to early spring.

Lantana produces masses of current sized bluish-black shiny berries that appear in late summer. They are produced in open clusters on short stems above the foliage containing a multitude of berries. It is however when the berries are green they contain the most toxin.

The Virginia Creeper produces berries which are about 6mm in diameter. A bluish-black colour, they are produced in open clusters on a central stem and ripen in October.

Privet, common in many gardens produces 4-8mm berries that mature to a dull black colour in winter. They persist for most of the year hanging in dense grape like clusters.

Yew Berries are among the berries which cause the greatest percentage of poisonings. They are about 8-10 mm in diameter and fleshy in appearance. Bright scarlet in colour, they have a cup like depression at the base. The inside of this depression contains the dark coloured seed. The berries are produced in September. Most poisonings are due to their bright coloration and deceptively appetising appearance making them attractive to children.

Deadly Nightshade – Atropa belladonna is also very poisonous. Also known as Belladonna, this plant produces shiny black berries with a five-lobed calyx on a short stalk. They are produced singularly and are about the size of a cherry. They appear in September after the flowers have faded and dropped. The berries have a sweet taste giving them great appeal to children in particular.

The Castor Oil plant – Ricinus communis produces a large fruit-like body that has been responsible for a number of deaths due to its excessively high toxicity. The deeply grooved prickly, spherical, fruits are brown in colour and contain three seeds. It is these seeds which contain the most toxin. Produced all year round, they appear in open clusters on a tall spike above the broad-leafed foliage. When ripe the fruit explosively disperses the seeds.

Elderberry – Sambucus spp. makes beautiful wine and jams, but the un-ripened berries are in fact toxic. The berries are produced in late spring in dense clusters. At the poisonous stage, they are small and pea-like with a short stalk.

Potatoes also produce berries after flowering. These berries contain a very deadly alkaloid poison and have been in the past responsible for a number of fatalities. The berries appear after flowering in clusters on a short stalk. Each cluster contains an average of six berries. Small, shiny, and green, the berries have a five lobed calyx and are topped by a short stalk.

The Question of Rowan Berries.

There is much debate as to the toxicity of Rowan berries. These are 4-8 mm bright orange or red fruit that appear in dense clusters. Some sources say the berries are poisonous while others state the opposite. If we look at the fact of the matter, both sources are right. The berries contain parasorbic acid in their raw form. In this manner, they are indeed poisonous. On cooking however, the parasorbic acid is converted into harmless sorbic acid, which is quite digestible. Rowan berries are indeed used to make a jelly that goes well with wild game and as jams and preserves. If you still feel doubt about using Rowan berries then for your own peace of mind, leave them out.

Deliciously Deadly Decorations

Another pair of plants that have caused fatalities, particularly around Christmas time, is the berries of both Holly – Ilex and Mistletoe – Viscum album.

Holly produces yellow as well as red berries in open clusters of 4 to 6 berries. The berries are about 8mm in diameter and oval in shape. They ripen from autumn through to early winter.

Mistletoe produces translucent white berries that are between 6-10 mm in diameter. They are spherical in shape with small straight stalks. Produced in clusters that originate from a central stalk they mature from January through to March.

It especially pays to watch children around the sprigs of these plants that grace our homes as part of the holiday season cheer. The berries of these poisonous plants may be mistaken for just another tasty Christmas treat with fatal results.

It may be far safer to use one of the many plastic imitations that abound at this time of year rather than risk a fatality.

If you have children or pets remove any plants that fall into this category from your garden and substitute them with something far less lethal.

If any of your Houseplants produce poisonous berries you can substitute them with artificial ones or at the very least ensure they are up out of harm’s way.

Teach Them While They are Young.

The best way to help avoid a poisoning is through education and commonsense.

Teach your children never to eat any part of a plant, especially the berries no matter how safe they appear.

Teach them to recognise edible fruits, berries, and vegetables. If they cannot identify what it is, they should not attempt to taste it without first checking with an adult. The same advice also applies to adults. Never taste unidentified berries yourself.

Just because some berries are safe for birds and animals to eat does not mean they will not have a lethal reaction on humans. This mistake has cost lives in the past.

Never leave small children in a garden containing suspect or hazardous plants by themselves. Children have a natural curiosity and if it appears good enough to eat, they will try it.

Weed Out the Toxins.

If in doubt about a berry producing plant in your garden, take a sample of the leaves and berries along to a reputable nurseryman or Garden centre for proper identification. Most are only too happy to assist in identifying what is in your garden and will be able to advise you if it is dangerous or not.

When it comes to poisonous plants in the garden, especially the berry producing varieties, if there is even the slightest doubt about the safety of having the plant in your garden leave it out and select a safer alternative.

If you suspect someone has eaten poisonous berries seek medical attention immediately. Take a sample of the berries with you, as this will aid the medical staff in identifying the toxin and treating the patient.

It is wiser to miss out on a few colourful berries than have those same berries cost the life of a loved one or pet.