Actaea rubra

Red Baneberry

Actaea rubra, Red Baneberry, BWCAW; Photo © by Earl J.S. Rook
Red Baneberry
Bald Eagle Lake, BWCAW
Photo © 1999 by Earl J.S. Rook

Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods


  • Actaea, from the Greek, aktea (aktea), "elder tree" (Sambucus nigra), from the similarity of the leaves to those of the elders.
  • rubra, from the Latin, "red, ruddy"
  • Common Name, from from a poisonous essential oil or glycoside (protoanemonin) found in all parts of the plant but concentrated in the berries and root. Symptoms of poisoning include gastroenteritis, stomach cramps, headache, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea and circulatory failure.
  • Other common names include Cohosh, Red Cohosh, Necklaceweed, Snakeberry, Actée rouge (Qué), poison de couleuvre (Fr), Lännenkonnanmarja (Fin)


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Magnoliophyta, the Angiosperms (flowering plants)
      • Class Magnoliopsida, the Dicotyledons
      • Subclass Magnoliidae
        • Order Ranunculales, the Buttercups
          • Family Ranunculaceae, the Buttercups, with Anemone, Clematis, Coptis (Gold Thread), Delphinium (Larkspurs), Hepatica, Ranunculus (Buttercups), and Thalictrum (Meadow Rues).
            • Genus Actaea, the Baneberries, with White Baneberry (A. pachypoda)
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 18723


  • A deciduous, bushy shaped perennial herb, 1'-3' tall.
  • Leaves alternate, 2 to 3 times compound, sharply toothed and lobed.
  • Stem one to several; branched.
  • Roots poisonous.
  • Flowers have small white petals, showy stamens, and a roselike fragrance; borne in a fluffy cluster.
    • Sepals 3-5, whitish green, not persistent in fruit, plane, orbiculate, 2-4.5 mm;
    • Petals 4-10, distinct, cream colored
    • Stamens 15-50
    • Pistil 1, simple; ovules many per pistil; style very short or absent.
  • Fruit showy, poisonous, red or occasionally white berries on slender stalk; each containing 9-16 seeds
  • Seed red-brown, about 1/8" long.Seeds dark brown to reddish brown, obconic to wedge-shaped, rugulose.


  • Distinguished from White Baneberry by fruit cluster shape; flatter rather than elongated, on slender stalk rather than thicker.
  • Despite name, berry color not a sure indicator. Red Baneberry does sometimes bear white berries!


  • Moist woods in the Northern Temperate Zone of North America and Eurasia.


  • Cool, moist, nutrient-rich sites.
  • In Minnesota a wide range of sites but preferring partial to full shade and moderately moist, nutrient-rich soils. Scattered through Red and White Pine (Pinus resinosa and Pinus strobus) forests and forests dominated by Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) and other hardwoods from Minnesota to New England. Found in both early successional and mature forests.
  • In Minnesota forests, leaves and flowers appear in the first 3 weeks of the growing season; the leaves begin to wither and die by midsummer. Across its range, blooms May to July and fruits August to October.


  • A perennial herb with a thick rootstock buried in the soil. It frequently grows in moist microsites where fire severity and frequency may be lower.
  • Fire generally kills aboveground portions but the rootstock appears to survive many fires.


  • Trees: Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), Red Pine (Pinus resinosa), White Pine (Pinus strobus)
  • Mammals: Berries eaten by deer mice, white-footed mice, red squirrels, eastern chipmunks, and redbacked voles. Some of the small mammals remove and eat the seeds leaving the the pulp.
  • Birds: Fruit is consumed by several species including Yellow Bellied Sapsucker, American Robin, Gray Cheeked Thrush, Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbird, and Grouse. Several species eat the fruit but void the seeds.


  • Native Americans in Alberta and British Columbia used a weak decoction made from the roots as a stimulant in treating colds, arthritis, syphilis, rheumatism, and emaciation. They also chewed leaves and put them on boils and wounds to stimulate blood flow.


  • Woodland garden ornamental.


  • Blooms late May to mid-June in the North Country.
  • Pollinated by a variety of insects; can be self-fertile.
  • Fruit set close to 100%.
  • Seed requires dormant period, usually taking 2 years to germinate in the wild.
  • Seedling growth good in both sun and shade. While survival is better in the shade, seedlings in the sun are slightly larger and have more biomass allocated to roots. Seedlings begin to bloom in their third year.
  • Seed dispersal by birds and small mammals; chipmunk may bury the seed.


  • Difficult from seed. Stratification and a moist seeding mixture are necessary for germination. Reported results mixed.
  • Stratify warm 4 weeks, cold 6 weeks. Plant without bottom heat.
  • Rootstock easy to transplant fall or spring when dormant.


  • Attractive foliage and brilliantly beautiful berries, which are unpalatable and can cause illness if eaten. With due caution, easily grown in woodland gardens; very attractive interspersed with ferns.
  • Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)



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Last Updated on 26 February, 2004