poetry and prose about place

Posts Tagged ‘Clintonia borealis

Bluebead Lily (Clintonia borealis (Ait.) Raf.)

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When I hike through the woods, I am made uneasy by two unnatural-looking berries… the ‘doll’s eyes’ of White Baneberry  (Actaea pachypoda Ell.) , and the metallic blue berries of the Bluebead Lily (Clintonia borealis (Ait.) Raf.).  Both berries are poisonous and inedible.  I’ll write more about White Baneberry in a later post, but first, I want to tell you about the Bluebead Lily.

The Bluebead Lily is also known by the names Snakeberry, Dogberry, Corn Lily, Cow Tongue, Straw Lily and even Wild Lily-of-the-Valley.  It is called after De Witt Clinton, several-times Governor of New York.  Its specific name, borealis, is Latin for ‘northern’.

Clintonia grows in rich, cool hardwoods, often on slopes.  The plant consists of two or three large, shiny basal leaves, with parallel veins, wrapped around one-another and clasping the base of a flower-stalk.  The stalk bears several yellow-green nodding lily-like flowers.  In late May, these flowers are just beginning their blooming.

By July, the berries are ripening.  These are considered inedible, perhaps toxic.  They are oval, shiny, dark blue, and to me, menacing.

Although the berries are inedible, the young leaves, when they are just expanding, can be eaten cooked or raw, and taste like cucumber.  To cook them, boil for 10 minutes and serve with butter.  As the leaves mature, the cucumber taste becomes strong and unpleasant.

If you want to try the young leaves of Clintonia, make sure you are certain of identification since there are many leaves in the woods that may superficially resemble the leaves of Clintonia.

Have you ever seen a Bluebead Lily and its berries or flowers?





White Baneberry

and Bluebead Lily –

vivid berries

peek between leaves,

part a path

in the understory, dolls

wink, use fern shadow

to blink or disguise

a gift, a bead

of metal, stained

glossy, alien



glossed by the Guidebook

with skull and crossbones



1. never eat any plant if you are not absolutely certain of the identification;
2. never eat any plant if you have personal sensitivities, including allergies, to certain plants or their derivatives;
3. never eat any plant unless you have checked several sources to verify the edibility of the plant.

©  Jane Tims  2012

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