Ranunculaceae (Buttercup family)
Description: An aromatic perennial herb up to 3 ft. tall. Leaves large, 2-3 times compound on long stalks with sharply lobed margins. Small white flowers in compact racemes extend above leaves. Round white fruits with a prominent black spot on bright red stalks. Flowers Apr.-May; fruits Aug.-Oct.
Habitat/range: Rich woods and bottomlands, including cove forests, floodplain forests, and basic mesic forests. Common in mountains, rare in piedmont. Widespread in eastern North America.
Taxonomy: The waxy berries resemble the porcelain eyes once used in dolls, hence the common name "doll's eyes."
Ecology: This plant catches your eye both in spring when feathery clusters of white flowers are present and in late summer and fall when colorful white berries appear on stout red stalks. The numerous stamens give the apetalous flowers a distinctly feathery appearance. Doll's eyes flowers lack nectar but have a citrus-like odor that attracts pollen-collecting bees, syrphid flies, and beetles that function as pollinators when they inadvertently brush pollen onto receptive stigmas while foraging. The European snout beetle uses the flowers as a mating site (rather than as a food source), and as it scrambles over the flowers, pollination occurs. The opportunity for cross-pollination is enhanced by the stigmas being receptive for several days before the anthers release pollen.
Wildlife: Pollen-foraging insects pollinate the flowers in spring, deer browse the foliage in summer, and birds and rodents consume the fleshy fruits and disperse the seeds from late summer-fall.
Uses: Native Americans used doll's eyes for a variety of ailments, including heart problems, and as an aid in childbirth. The fruits and all other parts of the plant are poisonous, as suggested by the common name "white baneberry."
Actaea racemosa L.
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