Poisonous berries

The changing climate rushes our flowering season on and the reserve is already full of seeds, fruits and berries, food for our wildlife but not always for its human occupants. Some berries are poisonous.

All of these poisonous plants grow in the reserve: woody nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), cuckoo pint or wild arum (Arum maculatum), and the bryonies, white bryony (Bryonia alba) which has black berries and black bryony (Dioscorea communis) which has red berries. These all look suspicious. You would think twice before picking any of them, never mind putting them in your mouth, and how right you would be.

But there are more commonplace plants that are just as dangerous:

The holly (Ilex aquafolium) and ivy (Hedera helix) that we carry into our houses at Christmas time both have poisonous berries; children, every year, end up in ER after eating the berries that fall off their Christmas table decorations. Spindleberry (Euonymus europaeus) is a fashionable favourite of florists,  included in many winter bouquets. All three species are plentiful in the park; all three are poisonous.

We have used scientific names here because plants have many common names but only one scientific name. Woody nightshade, for instance, is also called bittersweet, bitter nightshade, blue bindweed, climbing nightshade, fellenwort or felonwood depending on where you are and who taught you the names of flowers. Mistakes can be made when a plant is not properly identified.

The rules should be these: don’t eat berries unless you are sure they are not toxic; teach your children to ask before they pick or eat anything they find in the reserve.

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