Bane of the Woods

Bane:  from the Old English word bana meaning a thing causing death or poison; today, a cause of great distress or annoyance.

Over the centuries we’ve learned which plants were safe to eat, which ones can cure certain ills and which could make us sick or kill us (or our enemies). So we have fleabane. Dogbane. Henbane. Cowbane. Witchbane. Wolf’s bane and more. (The latter is handy should you encounter vampires or werewolves.) The list goes on.

Baneberries look so festive they seem to invite the unsuspecting to taste at least one berry. But best keep your hand in your pocket. They are poisonous (as are their white counterparts, often called doll’s eyes).

One plant grows under the lilac tree in our yard. It’s never spread from there so I leave it to grow undisturbed. I’ve also occasionally run into single plants in our woods. A recent trip on Snake Hill, however, surprised me — I found six or seven healthy plants growing in among the cow parsnip and grasses.

Baneberry berries and leaves

All parts of the plant can cause you grief but the roots and the berries particularly so. While the effect varies from person to person depending on age, health, weight and such, baneberry will quickly make itself known — burning mouth and throat, severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, dizziness et cetera. Not pleasant.

That said, you’ll notice that something small has been nibbling these berries — but that’s no indicator that they’re safe. Poisons often affect different species in different ways.


Baneberries belong to the buttercup family along with clematis, larkspur — all of which can make you sick.

Red baneberry   Actaea rubra

The Story of a Flower

Blue clematis caught my eye this spring when I found a few patches on Snake Hill. I checked back over the coming weeks to watch the changes.

Blossoms about to open

Shady Lady

Version 2



This perennial vine is beautiful at all stages but like many members of the buttercup family it’s poisonous. (Especially for dogs, apparently.)

Should you be inclined to pop leaves or flowers into your mouth expect a strong burning sensation et cetera. Handling or inhaling parts of the plant can also cause irritation though I’ve handled the plant several times and haven’t noticed any effect. Forewarned.

Blue clematis   Clematis verticellaris var. columbiana


Shady Ladies

A walk up a wooded hill on a recent sunny day brought beauty — pale blue clematis, twining around the base of an aspen.

Trailing through the woods

They love shaded woods, trailing along the ground or winding gently up a tree trunk, each flower upright on a tall stalk. The four-pointed blossom is pale blue verging on mauve.

A four-pointed blossom

Clematis belongs to the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) which includes many familiar flowers, among them anemones, columbines, larkspurs, crocuses and, of course, buttercups.

Blossoms about to open

Blossoms and three-part leaves

Sun-dappled blooms

Even when clematis go to seed they are lovely, forming silvery plume-like clusters. Another walk up the hill is warranted soon.

Blue clematis   Clematis verticellaris var. columbiana