The Poisonous Berries of Fall | Almanac.com

The Poisonous Berries of Fall

Daphne mezereum or february daphne green shrub with orange berries
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A List of Common Plants with Poisonous Berries

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This fall, be on the lookout for deceptively beautiful berries. Some of these berries are poisonous! Even if you don’t plan to pop one into your mouth, knowing which plants in the landscape have poisonous berries is helpful. Here are the most common “forbidden fruits” of fall. 

Poisonous Berries in the Fall

If your kids have been active participants in berry picking all summer long, let them know that not all berries are okay to eat. Teach them not to put anything in their mouths that has not been checked by a knowledgeable adult first. Don’t eat any berry that you cannot positively identify because mistakes can be fatal! Don’t rely on animals as an indicator of whether or not something is edible, either. Birds often eat berries that are poisonous to humans.

poisonous privet berries

  • Privet is widely grown as a hedge but if eaten, its leaves and black berries are toxic to humans and dogs.

poisonous yew berries

  • Yews are another commonly grown shrub. The red berries are not toxic, but the seeds contained within them can be if enough berries are consumed.

poisonous elderberry berries

  • Elderberry also contains poisonous seeds in its berries. To safely eat the berries, they must be cooked first. Jams, jellies, syrups, wine, and pie made from elderberries are delicious— don’t eat the raw berries! They contain cyanide-like properties and can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and even coma. See how to make elderberry syrup.

poisonous laburnum berries

  • Laburnum is often called the golden rain or golden chain tree for its lovely cascades of yellow flowers. After blossoming, it forms pods full of pea-like seeds that can cause vomiting, convulsions, and coma when eaten.

poisonous virginia creeper berries

  • Virginia creeper is a fast-growing perennial vine that is found in many gardens. Its small blue berries are highly toxic and can be fatal to humans if eaten. Birds love the berries, however, and can enjoy them with impunity. This is a popular flower for fall foliage.

poisonous burning bush berries

  • Burning bush (Euonymous alata) is an invasive shrub that is still found in many gardens. All parts of this plant are toxic and in the fall it produces bright red-orange berries to tempt the unwary. Just another reason to eliminate this plant from your landscape. 

poisonous lilly of the valley berries

poisonous pokeweed berries

  • Pokeweed is a commonly found weed growing at the edges of cultivated land. Birds eat the dark purple berries and deposit the seeds where they alight, spreading the plants everywhere. Humans and other mammals are not so lucky and eating just a few of these delicious-looking berries can prove fatal.

poisonous daphnes berries

  • Daphnes are popular spring-flowering shrubs. Unfortunately, all parts of the plant are poisonous to humans and other mammals. In the fall, they produce berries that can cause severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and lethargy when eaten.

When walking in the woods this fall, keep an eye out for some of these poison berries:

poisonous baneberry berries

  • Baneberry is a member of the buttercup family (Ranunculus), which includes many beautiful but deadly plants. Both red (Actea rubra) and white (Actea pachypoda) baneberry have poisonous berries that can cause cardiac arrest if eaten. The white berries have black spots on them, earning them their other common name: “doll’s eyes.”

poisonous jack in the pulpit berries

  • Jack-in-the-pulpit is another woodland plant that produces a cluster of shiny red berries in the fall. They won’t kill you if ingested, but they can cause blisters in your mouth. If you must handle the berries, wash your hands well before touching your eyes, mouth, or nose—or wear gloves for protection.

poisonous bittersweet berries

  • Bittersweet has showy orange and yellow berries prized for fall decorations. All parts of the plant are poisonous to humans and pets, although birds and squirrels love the berries. Birds eat the berries, depositing seeds everywhere, which has contributed to the spread of the invasive, non-native Oriental bittersweet.

Of course, there are also some wild berries that are delicious and safe to eat! Many have powerful antioxidants and health benefits. Examples include: huckleberries, gooseberries, chokeberries, and saskatoon berries.

Don’t let fear of being poisoned stop you from enjoying the outdoors. Instead, turn this into an opportunity to learn more about the natural world around you and respect the power of plants! 

See our list of poisonous plants for dogs, cats, and other pets.

About The Author

Robin Sweetser

Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. Read More from Robin Sweetser

2023 Gardening Club