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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Monday - November 29, 2010

From: Unknown city, CA
Region: California
Topic: Trees
Title: Are red berries of modesto ash toxic to dogs
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Are the red berries that come off the modesto ash tree poisonous to dogs if they eat them?

ANSWER:

Modesto ash, a cultivar of Fraxinus velutina (Arizona ash), does not appear on any of the following toxic plant databases that I checked:

ASPCA's Toxic and Non-Toxic Plant List – Dogs

Poisonous Plants of North Carolina

Cornell University Plants Poisonous to Livestock

Toxic Plants of Texas 

University of Pennsylvania Poisonous Plants

Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System

However, I think you may have misidentified your tree.  The fruit/seeds of Fraxinus velutina are NOT red berries.  Their seeds are contained in winged structures called samaras, very much like maple seeds.  You can see the seeds of Fraxinus velutina on the USDA Plants Database, as well as the Vascular Plants of the Gila Wilderness and the Southwest Environmental Information Network databases. 

There are, however, several mountain ash trees (Sorbus sp.) that do have red berries.  I suspect that one of these is the tree that you have.  There are three native species of Sorbus that occur in California plus a non-native European one.

Sorbus californica (California mountain ash) and here are photos

Sorbus scopulina (Cascade mountain-ash)

Sorbus sitchensis (Sitka mountain-ash) and here are photos

Sorbus aucuparia (European mountain ash

None of the Sorbus species occurs on the toxic plant databases listed above.  The berries from the European mountain ash, also known as the rowan tree, has been used historically for medicinal purposes and to make jelly and chutney.

If your tree isn't one of the Sorbus species above, you should try to get a correct identification of it.  Visit Mr. Smarty Plants' Plant Identification page to find forums that will help you identify your tree if you provide them with photographs.  Once you have its correct identification you can compare its name to those in the above lists.  Your best bet is to use the botanical name for comparison in the the toxic plant databases since it less likely to be variable than the common name.


Fraxinus velutina


Sorbus scopulina


Sorbus scopulina

 

 

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