Actea pachypoda Ell.

Doll's Eyes

Actea pachypoda plant

Family - Ranunculaceae

Habit - Rhizomatous perennial forb, sometimes with a somewhat woody base.

Stems - To +50cm tall, glabrous, from thick large rhizome, herbaceous, purplish at base.

Actaea pachypoda stem2Stem and node.

Leaves - Alternate, twice ternately divided, glabrous, petiolate. Ultimate divisions serrate, with shallow lobes. Total leaf length(with petiole) +40cm long, +30cm broad.

Actea pachypoda leaf

Actaea pachypoda leafletLeaflet abaxial surface.

Inflorescence - Axillary pedunculate raceme with +/-15 flowers, to 10cm long(tall). Peduncle to +15cm, glabrous. Pedicels thick, 1cm long, 1.5mm in diameter, thickened at apex, with antrorse pubescence. Small acuminate bract subtending each pedicel. Peduncle and pedicels enlarging and becoming red in fruit.

Actaea pachypoda inflorescenceInflorescence.

Flowers - Petaloid sepals 4-5, white, truncate to 3-notched at apex, 5mm long, 1.5mm broad. Stamens +20. Filaments to 6-7mm long, white, glabrous, slightly expanded(thickened) just below anthers. Anthers pale yellow, .6mm in diameter. Ovary superior, white, glabrous, 3mm long, 2mm broad, urceolate. Placentation parietal. Stigma capitate, 2-lobed.

Actaea pachypoda flowerFlower.

Actaea pachypoda flowerFlowers, lateral view.

Fruit - A white subglobose berry with +/-5 seeds. Berry with black dot at apex, to 1cm long, with vertical groove.

Actaea pachypoda fruits2Fruits.

Fruits - Berries, 1 per flower stalk, 5-10 mm long, ellipsoid or spherical, white.

Flowering - May - June.

Habitat - Ravines, rich thick woods, north facing slopes, base of bluffs.

Origin - Native to U.S.

Other info. - This is a plant which is equally attractive in flower and in fruit. The species name means "thick foot" and one look at the big rhizome of the plant shows that it is aptly named. The rhizome used to be used, and probably still is, to treat pain and bronchial troubles. However, the plant is generally considered toxic, and some people get violent gastric distress from ingesting it. Contact can also cause skin blisters and irritation.

The plant grows in rich, deeply wooded areas and is a indicator of undisturbed habitat. It is reasonably common in rich areas in the eastern eastern half of the U.S. Missouri is near the western extent of its natural range. The fruits are striking and add nice color to the deep forest floor in the early fall. The color and relative stoutness of the fruit stalks are important characters for differentiation from the closely related A. rubra.

Photographs taken at the Jamerson C. McCormack Conservation Area, Holt County, MO., 5-3-00, and in the red hills of Alabama, 3-25-06 (DETenaglia); also at Faust County Park, St. Louis County, MO, 5-7-2014; and LaBarque Creek Conservation Area, Jefferson County, MO, 8-27-2018 (SRTurner).

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