Unfamiliar berry plants can be toxic

October 2, 2008
Bittersweet Nightshade

Poisonous Bittersweet nightshade berries. Photo by Larry Burrill.

Black nightshade

Poisonous Black nightshade berries. Photo by Barbara Fick.

ALBANY, Ore. – Oregon State University Extension offices regularly examine plants people bring in for identification. But because some recent samples brought in turned out to be toxic berry plants, Linn and Benton County Extension specialists recommend caution – especially for families with young children.

The two berry plants brought in recently were poisonous Black nightshade and Bittersweet nightshade, according to Barbara Fick, OSU Extension horticulturist for Linn and Benton counties. The samples brought to Fick started growing this year in the residents’ gardens or yards, but were not planted.

"Children are attracted to the berries of these plants," Fick said. "Black nightshade fruit hang in clusters and are green when unripe, black and shiny when ripe. Bittersweet nightshade fruit turn bright red when ripe and are egg-shaped."

Although fully ripe fruits of some varieties may be edible when fully cooked, toxicity varies and unless it is known that the berries are from an edible strain, they should be left alone. Contact poison control at 1-800-222-1222 with questions.

Birds and animals often eat berries and plants that are poisonous to humans, Fick warned. "Observing wildlife eating plants is no guarantee that people can safely eat the plant," she said.

If you do not know what a plant is, bring it to the Linn County Extension office at 104 Fourth St. S.W. in Albany, or the Benton County Extension office at 1849 N.W. Ninth St. in Corvallis for positive identification.

Author: Judy Scott
Source: Barb Fick