This section is from the book "Nature's Garden", by Neltje Blanchan. Also available from Amazon: Nature's Garden; An Aid To Knowledge Of Our Wild Flowers And Their Insect Visitors.
Flowers - Small, white, in a terminal oblong raceme. Calyx of 3 to 5 petal-like, early-falling sepals; petals very small, 4 to 10, spatulate, clawed; stamens white, numerous, longer than petals; 1 pistil with a broad stigma. Stem: Erect, bushy, 1 to 2 ft. high. Leaves: Twice or thrice compounded of sharply toothed and pointed, sometimes lobed, leaflets, peti-oled. Fruit: Clusters of poisonous oval white berries with dark purple spot on end, formed from the pistils. Both pedicels and peduncles much thickened and often red after fruiting.
Preferred Habitat - Cool, shady, moist woods.
Flowering Season - April - June.
Distribution - Nova Scotia to Georgia and far West.
However insignificant the short fuzzy clusters of flowers lifted by this bushy little plant, we cannot fail to name it after it has set those curious white berries with a dark spot on the end, which Mrs. Starr Dana graphically compares to "the china eyes that small children occasionally manage to gouge from their dolls' heads." For generations they have been called "doll's eyes" in Massachusetts. Especially after these poisonous berries fully ripen and the rigid stems which bear them thicken and redden, we cannot fail to notice them. As the sepals fall early, the white stamens and stigmas are the most conspicuous parts of the flowers. A cluster opening its blossoms almost simultaneously, the plant's only hope of cross-fertilization lies in the expectation that the small female bees (Halictus) which come for pollen - no nectar being secreted - will leave some brought from another flower on the stigma as they enter, and before collecting a fresh supply. The time elapsing between the maturity of the stigmas and the anthers is barely perceptible; nevertheless there is a tendency toward the former maturing first.
The Red Baneberry, Cohosh, or Herb-Christopher (A. rubra) - A. spicata, var. rubra of Gray - a more common species northward, although with a range, habit, and aspect similar to the preceding, may be known by its more ovoid raceme of feathery white flowers, its less sharply pointed leaves, and, above all, by its rigid clusters of oval red berries on slender pedicels, so conspicuous in the woods of late summer.