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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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Wednesday - July 31, 2013

From: Fallon, NV
Region: Rocky Mountain
Topic: Plant Identification, Edible Plants, Poisonous Plants
Title: Identification of shrub/small tree with small purple fruit
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Hi! I have a tree/bush that has come up on its own in the backyard. This year it set what looks like small purple plums. Is there any chance that they might be poisonous?

ANSWER:

Below are some native plants that occur in Nevada (except for the pokeweed) that have purple fruit.  There may be others that I have failed to show, but this is a good start.   There is no guarantee that your plant is native and I don't really know much about it except that it is a shrub/small tree with purple plum-like fruit, so I can't really offer a confident identification and, therefore, can't assure you that it isn't poisonous.  The only plant on the list with the potential to be poisonous is the chokecherry (seeds or foliage) and the pokeweed berries.

Frangula betulifolia (Beechleaf frangula)  Here are photographs from Southwest Environmental Information Network.

Frangula californica (California buckthorn)  Here are photos and more information from Southwest Environmental Information Network and from Wildflowers in Santa Barbara.

Ribes hudsonianum (Northern black currant)  Here are photos and more information from Central Yukon Species Inventory.

Ribes lacustre (Prickly currant)  Here are photos and more information from Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture University of Washington.

Ribes oxyacanthoides (Canadian gooseberry)  Here are more photos and information from ARKive.org.

Ribes viscosissimum (Sticky currant)  Here are photos and more information from Malheur Experiment Station Oregon State University.

Prunus virginiana (Chokecherry) has small fruits that change from red to dark purple as they mature.   They are astringent, but can be used in making preserves and jelly.   Here is more information from Rook.org.  The seeds of all Prunus spp.are listed by California Poison Control as of Major toxicity—"These plants may cause illness or death" if ingested.  Livestock can be poisoned by ingesting the plant material (see Cornell University's Plants Poisonous to Livestock).

Amelanchier alnifolia (Saskatoon serviceberry) Here are more photos and information from Southwest Colorado Wildflowers.

Amelanchier utahensis (Utah service-berry)  Here are more photos and informatio from Plants for a Future.

Vaccinium caespitosum (Dwarf bilberry)  Here are more photos and information from University of Washington.

Vaccinium uliginosum (Alpine blueberry)  Here are more photos and information from Plants for a Future.

Finally, there is one plant that has been found in the adjacent states of Oregon, California and Arizona, but not in Nevada.   Nevada's climate doesn't really support this plant EXCEPT that it might grow in someone's irrigated yard if brought in by a bird that had eaten its berries.   The plant is Phytolacca americana (American pokeweed) and you can a distribution map from the USDA Plants Database.  It is considered both highly toxic AND edible.  In particular, the berries are highly toxic.

Now, if none of the suggestions above are your plant and you have (or can take) photos of it, please visit our Plant Identification page to find links to plant identification forums that will accept photos of plants for identification. 

Below are photos of the berries of a few of the plants listed above.

 

From the Image Gallery


Chokecherry
Prunus virginiana

Saskatoon serviceberry
Amelanchier alnifolia

Alpine blueberry
Vaccinium uliginosum

Canadian gooseberry
Ribes oxyacanthoides

American pokeweed
Phytolacca americana

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