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How to Identify Berry Plants

wild berries image by Tammy Mobley from

A great deal of pride and satisfaction can be garnered from identifying and foraging edible berries. Berries can appear on the forest floor, above your head on trees and shrubs, or right at eye level. Many of these berries are edible; however, a few are deadly poisonous or can make you very sick. Edible plants can sometimes be difficult to identify from the berry alone because there may be many species with the same color of berry. You can positively identify berry plants by checking leaf, flower, stem and fruit characteristics.

Carry a field guide that has a section on berries that grow in your region. Use the book to look up the different characteristics you note while identifying berries. It's important to make a positive identification before eating any berry because some are poisonous. Write down the characteristics of each plant you identify.

Identify the growing characteristics of the berry plant. Note whether the plant is a shrub, tree or a plant growing low to the ground.

Make note of the leaves on the plant. Jot down whether the leaves line up opposite or alternate to each other. Pay attention to where the leaves grow, as well. Some plants have basal leaves that grow near the base of the plant.

Look at the edges of the leaves to identify the shape of the margins. Note whether the shape is wavy, toothed or smooth. Also, make note of the shape of the entire leaf and whether they are hairy or smooth in texture. Identify any veining characteristics that stand out in the leaves.

Check the characteristics of the stem on your berry plant. Jot down the color of the stem and whether the stem is hairy, warty, scaly or thorny.

Identify the color of flowers on the plant you are identifying. Count how many petals are on the flowers and note characteristics such as shape and width.

Write down the color of the berries on the plant. Also, note any identifying marks and whether the berries are powdery, hairy or shiny. Check to see if the berries are compound (with many units, like a blackberry) or have single berries.

Use your field guide to look up all the characteristics you noted. Compare the pictures of the flowers, leaves, stem and berry to the pictures in your book until you get a positive identification. Check to see if your book labels the berry as edible or poisonous. Also, check to make sure there are no look-alike plants listed in your guidebook. Be absolutely certain that you have correctly identified the berry before eating it.

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