5 of the most toxic berries found in the UK

5 of the most toxic berries found in the UK

In summer and autumn time the hedgerows and woods of the UK really come alive with colour, berries of almost every conceivable colour appear, but how do you know which ones are good to eat and which to avoid? As a child you’re told that red is a warning sign in nature but what about strawberries or raspberries? Unfortunately there are no general rules!

Most of us are quite familiar with blackberries and raspberries which are delicious, but here are some berries that you would definitely want to avoid.

Let’s take a closer look at 5 of the most toxic berries found in the UK


Yew (Taxus baccata)

Perkele at Italian Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A large evergreen tree, most often found in parks, churches and graveyards. Virtually all parts are deadly toxic. Just a small quantity of the leaves or seeds would be enough to kill a human. The only edible part is the flesh around the seeds.

Click here for full ID guide on yew

Could be Confused with…

It would be hard to confuse the berries with anything else, they do look a little like Redcurrants but Redcurrant grow on a small shrub rather than a tree, most incidents with Yew are when their needles are confused with other conifers.


Black bryony (Tamus communis)

სხირტლა, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

A fairly common, climbing plant. All parts are toxic, particularly the berries and the roots. Even touching the leaves can cause contact dermatitis.

Click here for full black bryony ID guide

Could be Confused with…

It could be confused with the Guelder rose but Guelder berries grow on umbels and Bryony berries grow on racemes.


Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum)

All parts of the plant contain oxalate crystals, but they are more concentrated in the berries. The plant tastes foul and contact causes an almost immediate burning sensation so you’re unlikely to eat enough for it to kill you thankfully. It does cause skin irritation and swelling and in theory it could cause your airways to become inflamed making it difficult to breath. There are no recently recorded fatalities from Lords and Ladies.

Click here for full lords and ladies ID guide

Could be Confused with…

Nothing really looks similar but the berries do stand out and look attractive to children.


Deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna)

As the name suggests it can be deadly poisonous, all parts of the plant contain tropane alkaloids which can cause delirium, hallucinations and death.

Click here for full Deadly Nightshade ID guide

Could be Confused with…

They have apparently been confused with Bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) in the past. But Bilberries normally appear earlier in the year, have a ‘bloom’ on the surface and the plants themselves look very different.


Spindle (Euonymous europaeus)

Rod Allday / Spindle Tree fruit and seeds (Euonymus europaeus)

An indicator of ancient woodlands it’s also planted as an ornamental in parks and gardens. The berries are potentially deadly poisonous but it’s quite easy to identify as the berries are quite unique.

Click here for the full spindle ID guide

Could be Confused with…

The fruits are quite unique so it would be hard to confuse them with anything else. Before it fruits the plant does look similar to Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) this develops blackish fruits and should also be avoided.

 

References:

https://commonbynature.co.uk/2018/01/18/top-10-facts-lords-and-ladies/

https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/wildflowers/deadly-nightshade#:~:text=Scientific%20name%3A%20Atropa%20belladonna,it%20has%20bell%2Dshaped%20flowers.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxus_baccata

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arum_maculatum

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euonymus_europaeus

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atropa_belladonna

https://www.alnwickgarden.com/the-garden/poison-garden/

https://www.garden-network.co.uk/listing/common-poisonous-berries-found-in-gardens-and-hedgerows

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dioscorea_communis

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-norfolk-26089688

https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/spindle/

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