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Monday - August 29, 2011

From: Coral Springs, FL
Region: Southeast
Topic: Plant Identification, Poisonous Plants
Title: Identification of plant with red berries toxic to dogs
Answered by: Nan Hampton


I recently retrieved my poor doggy from the Vet. He had eaten a berry from an invasive-commonly seen brushy plant growing along my neighbors fence line. We try to keep our side clear-but the small large pea sized berries grow in prolific bunches. Turn Red-and constantly drop to the ground. It has very fine leaves almost the size of a Rosemary appearance. Light green then to a bit darker. With a fern like brushy appearance. Thin long thorns acacia like all along the stem, and tiny white flowers. He was soooo sick. I see this mess along alot of fences and borderline wild corners down here in S Florida-but no one seems to know what it is and refer to it as a bunch of weeds. We took a sample to the Vet ER-They couldn't identify it either. We are playing beat the clock as this thing is on the ground in masses along our neighbors fence dropping berries by the dozens-we can't seem to keep it away! Thank-you so much for your time. I checked IFAS and some other sites with no luck. Our poor Doggy was pulled from a shelter just hours away from Euthanasia-due to a permanent crippled arm from being hit by a car they left untreated and let heal on it's own- now this has happened to him, and I just can't bear to go through it again! I feel horrible! Thank-You in advance for the time in helping us & our doggy!


I think it is most likely that the plant that you describe is  Asparagus aethiopicus (Asparagus fern).  It is not a fern at all but a member of the Family Liliaceae (Lily family).  It has small sharp spines along the branches, small white flowers and red berries.   It is a non-native invasive plant from South Africa.  It is listed as toxic by the ASPCA's Toxic and Non-Toxic Plant List - Dogs, Sunset Magazine's list of Plants Poisonous to Dogs, the DoberDog site, the Veterinary Partner site, and many more.  Since it is a non-native invasive, perhaps you can convince your neighbors to remove it.

Here are some other possibilities.  One is a native plant, Lycium carolinianum (Matrimony vine).  Its flowers can be purple, lavender or white.  It has spines and red berries.  It is listed as toxic by the DoberDog site and by the Poisonous Plants of North Carolina database.  The ASPCA's Toxic and Non-Toxic Plant List - Dogs does not show it on either the toxic or non-toxic list, however.

The other plants are the non-native species of PyracanthaPyracantha coccinea (scarlet firethorn), Pyracantha fortuneana [synonym = Pyracantha crenatoserrata] (Chinese firethorn), and Pyracantha koidzumii (Formosa firethorn).  They  have small, narrow leaves, thorns, white flowers, and red berries.  The different species of Pyracantha are difficult to differentiate.  Here is a key distinguishing them.  According to this George Mason University site, the berries of the Pyracantha spp. are poisonous.  The DoberDog site also lists them as poisonous.  California Poison Control System lists them as being mildly toxic and as causing dermatitis.  The ASPCA's Toxic and Non-Toxic Plant List - Dogs does not show it on either the toxic or non-toxic list.

If none of these is the plant you described, your best bet is to take photos and go to our Plant Identification page to find links to several plant identification forums that accept photos for identification.   Please be sure you follow the "Important Notes"  for submitting photos and be certain that the photos are in good focus.

Whatever the plant is, in order to protect your dog, here are some things you can do:

1.  Put up some sort of barrier (an inner fence, perhaps) between your lawn and the fence where the berries fall through.

2.  Cut back any branches that hang over into your yard and pick up all berries and branches that are in your yard. 

3.  Be vigilant about keeping the berries picked up.

I hope your little dog is going to be OK!




From the Image Gallery

Carolina wolfberry
Lycium carolinianum

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