White Baneberry

Garden Clippings for September 29, 2018

Everybody knows what a Trillium is.   The distinctive and simply beautiful pure white leaves of three are admired by all, especially residents of Ontario.  The fact that Trilliums are not very plentiful and only bloom briefly undoubtedly adds to their charm.

But when a Trillium plant is done flowering, nobody knows what a Trillium plant looks like.  Its leaves are plain green with no recognizable distinctive features.  Trilliums bloom early in spring before leaves form on the trees.  Soon after Trilliums flower, the forest floor produces so much foliage that it seems to swallow the humble Trillium leaves.

So it is with many plants, particularly wildflowers that grow in our home and native land.  They strut their stuff for a short spell and then take a back seat to allow other plants to rise to the occasion.

Another such plant is the little-known White Baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) also a native wildflower.  Baneberry quietly comes up in spring with plain green leaflets in groups of three or five.  The perennial grows to about 18 inches high forming a loose groundcover.  Baneberry’s delightful delicate white flower is short lived and attractive but does not make an impression like the White Trillium.

White Baneberry’s claim to fame is its showy fruit clusters appearing in fall. Fruit formation begins soon after flowers fall but nobody sees the fruit until it turns white.  When late summer arrives, fruit becomes milky white about 1/3 of an inch long with a tiny black dot at the tip.   Each berry is borne on a stalky pink stem which eventually turn bright red.

Baneberry’s common name or nickname is Doll’s Eyes.  Understandably so.

As cooler weather arrives, White Baneberry’s attractive stems and berries diminish, turn brown and fall.  Don’t be tempted to eat the berries because they are quite poisonous.  In the wild, animals are smart enough to know they should leave Baneberry well enough alone.

Think twice about uprooting Baneberry and transplanting it in your own yard.  Like Trilliums and  many wildflowers, they won’t do well in a typical urban perennial garden.  Unless you can duplicate a woodland shady garden with mature trees overhead and rich soil that has had decades of leaf build-up, you would be wise to enjoy Baneberry as you walk through the woods.

Another native wildflower that I believe has greater versatility than Trillium or Baneberry is Canadian Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense).  This true groundcover has bold heart shaped leaves that eventually form a dense blanket about 6 to 8 inches high.  Wild Ginger transplants relatively easily, provided its home is shady with rich soil.

Wild Ginger has most interesting reddish brown triangular shaped flowers.  It blooms sporadically through much of spring.  Unfortunately its darkish flowers stay low to the ground and are mostly hidden by its own foliage.  Wild Ginger is readily available and admired for its attractive groundcover foliage rather than its bloom.