Poisonous Plants

Actaea Minimize

GENUS: Actaea

Actaea pachypoda Ell.
—Baneberry; dolls-eyes

Actaea rubra (Ait. ) Willd.—Baneberry; dolls-eyes

FAMILY: Ranunculaceae - the Buttercup or Crowfoot Family

This is a large family of plants containing many genera, including several that produce acridnarcotic poisons. The family is so diverse that only a general description is provided. The plants are predominately herbaceous, with colorless, acrid juice; sepals: 2 to many; petals: numerous or in some species absent, with the calyx colored like the corolla; stamens: rarely few, typically very numerous; pistils: few to many and spirally arranged (1 in Actaea); fruits: dry capsules, seedlike achenes, orberries; sepals, petals, stamens, and pistils all distinct and unconnected; leaves: often dissected petioles dilated at the base, sometimes with stipulelike appendages. Many genera are cultivated for ornamental purposes, some contain medicinal properties, and one, Nigella, produces edible seeds used as an herb. In some genera the sepals or petals are saccate, producing spurs that often function as nectar-holding organs

PHENOLOGY: Actaea species flower through May and June.

Actaea is found in moist, rich woods. A. pachypoda occurs throughout the Commonwealth, whereas A. rubra is more often encountered in the northern half of the state.

PLANT CHARACTERISTICS: Actaea has 3 to 5 petaloid, caducous sepals; petals: 4-10, deciduous, clawed; stamens: numerous, filaments elongated and widened upward; pistil: 1; stigma: broad sessile, 2 lobed; fruit: a several-seeded berry; perennial herbs to 1 meter tall from a thick rhizome; leaf blades: large, (2-) 3-ternately compound; leaflets: with sharply toothed margins; flowers: small, white in dense, long-stalked terminal racemes. Actaea pachypoda has white fruit (rarely red), the stigma wider than the ovary, and very stout fruiting pedicels. Actaea rubra has red fruit (rarely white). The stigma more narrow than the ovary and slender fruiting pedicels.

All parts, especially roots and berries, are toxic. As few as six berries have been reported to cause severe symptoms.

Conditions include gastroenteritis with associated acute stomach cramps, dizziness, vomiting, increased pulse, delirium, circulatory failure, and headache. Symptoms usually disappear after 3 hours. Losses of life in the United States have not been reported for these plants; however, the European literature chronicles deaths of children after eating berries of a European species of baneberry

The toxic compound is unknown but probably is an essential oil or poisonous glycoside.

CONFUSED TAXA: The (2-)3-ternately compound leaves resemble many species of forest plant. However, the conspicuous fruits (either white or red) terminated by a black "button" (aging stigma) are characteristic of Actaea.

SPECIES OF ANIMALS AFFECTED: Both livestock and humans are susceptible to Actaea toxins.

TREATMENT: (11a)(b); (26)

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