This herbaceous perennial plant is 1-3' tall and either unbranched or
sparingly branched. The central stem and any secondary stems are
light green, glabrous, and terete. Each plant has 1-4 alternate leaves
that are widely spreading. Individual leaves are up to 1½' long and 1½'
across (excluding the petiole); they are bipinnate or tripinnate,
dividing into 3 primary leaflets and subdividing into 3-5 (rarely 7)
ultimate leaflets. When tertiary leaflets are present, there are
typically 3 secondary leaflets in each compound leaf. The ultimate
secondary or tertiary) are 1¼–3½" long, more or less ovate in shape,
and coarsely toothed along their margins; some ultimate leaflets are
sharply divided into 1-2 smaller lobes. The upper leaf surface is
medium green and glabrous, while the lower leaf surface is slightly
more pale and either glabrous or hairy along the major veins. The
petioles are up to 6" long, light green, and glabrous.
stem and any secondary stems terminate in solitary racemes of
flowers that are 1-2" long; these racemes become slightly longer when
the flowers are replaced by berries. Each flower is about ¼" across or
slightly wider, consisting 4-10 white petals, several inconspicuous
sepals, 15-40 white stamens, and a pistil. The petals are widely
spreading and narrowly elliptic in shape, while the stamens are long
and showy. The style of the pistil is very short or absent, while the
stigma of the pistil is short and stout. The ascending to widely
spreading pedicels are up to ½" long (or slightly more) and they are
noticeably more slender than the rachis (central stalk) of the raceme.
The peduncle (basal stalk) of each raceme is up to 4" long. The
blooming period occurs during late spring or early summer, lasting
about 3 weeks. The flowers have a rosy fragrance. Afterwards, fertile
flowers are replaced by ovoid berries that become 6-8
mm. long at
maturity. These berries are usually bright red and glossy at maturity,
although there is a less common form of this plant that has white
berries. Each berry contains a fleshy pulp and several seeds.
Individual seeds are 3.0–3.5 mm. long, reddish brown, and wedge-shaped.
The root system consists of a vertical rootstock with fibrous secondary
The preference is light to moderate
shade, moist to mesic conditions, and a somewhat acidic soil consisting
of sandy loam, loam, or clay-loam with decaying organic matter. The
should contain abundant nitrogen, calcium, and other nutrients. The
are slow to germinate, typically taking 2 years or more under natural
conditions. This plant prefers cool moist weather and it is winter
hardy to at least Zone 4.
The native Red
Baneberry occurs in northern Illinois, where it is uncommon. Illinois
lies along the southern range-limit of this
species. Habitats include moist to mesic woodlands, shady stream banks,
and shaded areas where some seepage of ground water occurs. In
Illinois, this plant is found in high quality natural areas where
either deciduous trees or a mixture of deciduous trees and conifers
occur. North of the state, it also occurs in conifer forests. Red
Baneberry is able to survive occasional wildfires.
The flowers of Red Baneberry attract
beetles, flies, and to a lesser extent Halictid bees (Pellmyr, 1985).
Only pollen is available as a floral reward. Some vertebrate animals
feed on the fruits or seeds of this plant. Examples of birds that eat
the fruits include the Ruffed Grouse, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker,
American Robin, Wood Thrush, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Brown Thrasher, and
Catbird. Examples of small mammals that eat the seeds (while usually
rejecting the pulp) include the Woodland Deer Mouse, White-footed
Mouse, Eastern Chipmunk, Red Squirrel, and Red-backed Vole (Crane,
1990; Martin et al., 1951/1961; Hamilton, 1941). Because the foliage is
somewhat toxic, it is usually avoided by mammalian herbivores. All
parts of this plant, including the fruit, are toxic to humans.
A woodland in Lake County, Illinois. The
photographs were taken by Paul Showers (Copyright © 2015).
Because of its attractive foliage, flowers, and bright red berries, Red
Baneberry (Actaea rubra
is an excellent selection for cool shade
gardens. It is similar in appearance to Doll's Eyes (Actaea pachypoda
except the latter
species always has white berries. When Red Baneberry produces white
berries, it can be distinguished from Doll's Eyes by its more slender
pedicels (basal stalklets of the flowers or berries). The pedicels of
Doll's Eyes are nearly as thick as the rachis (central stalk) of the
floral raceme. Doll's Eyes tends to have longer racemes, but this
distinction is not always reliable. The latter species can be found