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Forest frights

By SANDY LONG
Posted 10/16/19

Halloween will soon be here, with witches, werewolves, monsters, ghosts, ghouls and goblins beginning to appear around our homes and neighborhoods. As the colorful foliage begins to fall, our …

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Forest frights

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Halloween will soon be here, with witches, werewolves, monsters, ghosts, ghouls and goblins beginning to appear around our homes and neighborhoods. As the colorful foliage begins to fall, our forests, in keeping with the season, take on a creepier tone—inky branches reaching into ominous skies that darken earlier with each passing day.

It’s easy to imagine all sorts of spine-tingling haunts as we hear coyotes and owls call with increasing urgency against the coming cold, or encounter eyes in the forest that don’t belong to familiar animals or birds.

Such is one of the eerier plants that stake their claim here in the Upper Delaware River region—white baneberry. With its eye-catching white berries, it has earned the common name of “doll’s eyes.”

Waving atop blood-red stalks fringed by ferny foliage, this visually arresting plant is toxic. While harmless to birds, which are the plant’s primary dispersers, the berries and plant are poisonous to humans. Ingesting the berries can lead to cardiac arrest or even death. Best to appreciate this peculiar plant for its eye-catching attractiveness from behind a camera, or at least without touching it.

For certain, there are many plants and fungi in our forests which may cause harm, ranging from rashes to convulsions, and from nausea to liver failure. Some can stop our hearts, while others can help us to avoid heart attacks. Some, like wolfsbane, have been used as poison for bullets, arrows, water supplies and wolves. Others have satisfyingly scary names like witch hazel, witch’s butter, bloodwort, deadly nightshade, destroying angel and dragon’s blood.

Don’t let fear stop you from enjoying our forests at this time of year. Arm yourself with field guides and smartphone apps to chase away the horrors lurking in a lack of information. Knowledge is one’s best defense against the demons of uncertainty.

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