(Actaea alba) Crowfoot family
Flowers - Small, white, in a terminal oblong raceme. Calyx of 3
to 5 petal-like, early-falling sepals; petals very small, 4 to
10, spatulate, clawed; stamens white, numerous, longer than
petals; 1 pistil with a broad stigma. Stem: Erect,
bushy, to 2
ft. high. Leaves: Twice or thrice compounded of sharply toothed
and pointed, sometimes lobed, leaflets, petioled. Fruit: Clusters
of poisonous oval white berries with dark purple spot on end,
formed from the pistils. Both pedicels and peduncles much
thickened and often red after fruiting.
Preferred Habitat - Cool, shady, moist woods.
Flowering Season - April-June.
Distribution - Nova Scotia to Georgia and far West.
However insignificant the short fuzzy clusters of flowers lifted
by this bushy little plant, we cannot fail to name it after it
has set those curious white berries with a dark spot on the end,
which Mrs. Starr Dana graphically compares to "the china eyes
that small children occasionally manage to gouge from their
dolls' heads." For generations they have been called "doll's
eyes" in Massachusetts. Especially after these poisonous berries
fully ripen and the rigid stems which bear them thicken and
redden, we cannot fail to notice them. As the sepals fall early,
the white stamens and stigmas are the most conspicuous parts of
the flowers. A cluster opening its blossoms almost
simultaneously, the plant's only hope of cross-fertilization lies
in the expectation that the small female bees (Halictus) which
come for pollen - no nectar being secreted - will leave some
brought from another flower on the stigma as they enter, and
before collecting a fresh supply. The time elapsing between the
maturity of the stigmas and the anthers is barely perceptible;
nevertheless there is a tendency toward the former maturing
The RED BANEBERRY, COHOSH, or HERB-CHRISTOPHER (A. rubra; A.
spicata, var. rubra of Gray) - a more common species northward,
although with a range, habit, and aspect similar to the
preceding, may be known by its more ovoid raceme of feathery
white flowers, its less sharply pointed leaves, and, above all,
by its rigid clusters of oval red berries on slender pedicels, so
conspicuous in the woods of late summer.
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