Actaea rubra is a poisonous herbaceous flowering plant in the family Ranunculaceae, native to North America. The leaves are coarsely toothed with deeply lobed margins.
Plants commonly have hairy veins on the undersides of the foliage. Each stem will have either three leaves that branch near the top, or will have three compound leaves and one upright flowering stalk from one point on the main central stem.
Plants produce one to a few ternately branched stems which bear clusters of flowers having 3 to 5 sepals that are petal-like and obovate in shape and remain after flowering.
The petals are deciduous, falling away after flowering is done. They are clawed at the base and 2.5 mm to 4 mm long and spatulate to odovate in shape. Flowers have numerous stamens and they are white in color.
The white flowers are produced in spring in a dense raceme about 10 cm long. Its most striking feature is its fruit, a 1 cm diameter white berry, whose size, shape, and black stigma scar give the species it’s other common name, “doll’s eyes”.
The berries ripen over the summer, turning into a fruit that persists on the plant until frost.
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.
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.