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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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Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
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Saturday - September 03, 2011

From: Sarasota, FL
Region: Southeast
Topic: Non-Natives, Plant Identification, Poisonous Plants, Shrubs
Title: Plant identification for shrub in Florida
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

On our street we have ornamental shrub planted in the median that has small waxy green leaves, produces small fragrant white flowers, and red berries with white pulp and small seeds on the inside. The berries start out green and then turn pale red and are about one inch long and one half inch in diameter. My questions are: what is this plant, and are these berries edible (they smell apetizing when crushed)?

ANSWER:

My experience with ornamental shrubs planted in the median of streets is that they are introduced plants not native to North America.  Our area of focus and expertise is with plants native to North America; however, I happen to have an excellent guide book to The Shrubs & Woody Vines of Florida by Gil Nelson that not only gives native shrubs, but introduced ones as well.  Your plant sounds a lot like Murraya paniculata (orange jessamine), introduced to North America from Asia.  Here are more photos and more information.  Here is a link to someone's website who tried tasting them. 

NOTE:  It's not really a good idea to find out whether or not a plant is poisonous by tasting it!!   A better way is to check its scientific name against several toxic plant databases.  This doesn't guarantee that it isn't poisonous, but it certainly makes it less likely that it is.   Here are a few that you can try:

Toxic Plants of Texas

Poisonous Plants of North Carolina 

Cornell University Plants Poisonous to Livestock

University of Pennsylvania Poisonous Plants

Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System

California Poison Action Line

If Murraya paniculata isn't your plant, your best bet for learning its identity is to take photos of it and then visit our Plant Identification page to find links to plant identification forums that accept photos for identification.  On the Plant Identification page be sure to read the "Important Notes" for submitting photos and be sure your photos are in good focus.

 

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