07 Aug

Bloodberry, Rouge Plant, Pigeon Berry, Turkey Berry, Baby Peppers

Rivina humilis

Phytolacccaceae (or Petiveriaceae)


[Because I’m leaving on a trip instead of our usual Friday field outing tomorrow, the blog goes up a day early today and may not appear next week.  (I may fail to reply to or to approve commentary, but John might chime in.)  Here is a link to our upcoming free on-line class.]

No nature enthusiast overlooks the curious Bloodberry.  You see those scarlet “baby peppers” everywhere, and I mean everywhere, around the world with ecological tolerances as broad as they come: dark dank shade, sun-baked beachside dunes, soggy inland hammocks, and more.  Famed wood anatomist Sherwin Carlquist noticed the internal wood structure to indicate adaptation to dry conditions despite frequent encounters in moisty places.  Part of our berry’s life strategy seems at a glance to be tolerance for drought and salinity once established, allowing a full reproductive cycle in spots with a flippy-floppy wet-dry cycle.  Knowing that, Bloodberry as a (riparian) Arizona wildflower or pest in arid South Africa is not surprising.

Bloodberries (by John Bradford)

Bloodberries (by John Bradford)


The original natural native boundaries are tough to pin down for weeds, in today’s case probably from the southern U.S. down deep into tropical America and the Caribbean.  The red-berried wonder now spans the warm climate world, and here is a case where our well-behaved local wildflower is an invasive menace scattered on the other side of the globe.

How does BB jump those miles?  Answer #1:  Those scarlet berries are bird candy.  Back to that in a moment.  Answer #2:  Who’d be surprised if this often-coastal plant floats a bit. More on that momentarily.   Answer #3:  Gardeners see it as a shade-tolerant dash of color, and who’d be surprised if ancient folks had a hand in relocation too…those red berries are striking and have ethnobotanical histories, especially, according to botanist Dan Austin in treating diarrhea.

Are the berries safe to eat?  No.  Commercial interest in this question stems from the possibility of using the juice as food coloring.  The red pigments are akin to those in beets.  Laboratory rats tolerated the juice, short-term…but leave these plants out of the kitchen!  They are related to pokeweed, which has subtle toxins effective at minute concentrations, which makes me nervous about Bloodberry.  But who needs subtlety and low concentrations?  A little Google-tickling reveals poisonosity.  Question answered.  (Gardeners and nibblers take note.  The dangerous berries might appeal to children.)  By the way, keep the cow away, the toxins taint the moojuice.

The flowers (by John Bradford)

The flowers (by John Bradford)

Every plant has its weird point.  And here it is, drumroll please:  The seeds are hairy.  Big wup!  No, hang on, that’s not it, so here is the weird part—the hairs are not really hairs; they are the inner layers of the fruit wrapping the seed coat in inflated bumps.  That’s so contrived there must be a good reason for the contrivance.  We can speculate:

Often small seeds and seedlike fruits—especially in moist habitats—have varied bumps, lumps, and “hairs.”  Flotation help?  Devices for clinging to muddy bird legs for dispersal?  Padding?  Protection? Nobody really knows, probably all of the above in varied doses depending on the species.  If we take those bloody berries to be essentially bird-dispersed, my guess is that the bubble wrap protects the seed’s passage through a bird, grinding gizzard and all, just like bubble wrap protects a glass bowl’s passage through Fed-Ex.  And once the seed pops free of the bird, maybe a little extra flotational padding helps the pretty and poisonous species invade exotic places.

The bubble wrap seeds (U.S. National Seed Herbarium photo)

The bubble wrap seeds (U.S. National Seed Herbarium photo)


Posted by on August 7, 2014 in Bloodberry


Tags: ,

10 responses to “Bloodberry

  1. richard424

    August 7, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    Just a short note to tell you how much I look forward to your articles. I do appreciate your time and effort.


    Sent from my iPad Richard Lyons 202000 SW 134 ave Miami, Fl. 33177 305-251-6293 (South Florida content) ( world wide information)


    • George Rogers

      August 7, 2014 at 2:28 pm

      Richard, Thanks so much,l and nice to hear from you, still grateful for excellent native photos you let me use several months ago, George

  2. SmallHouseBigGarden

    August 7, 2014 at 2:45 pm

    Fascinating! I’ve never noticed this one around anywhere..will need to be far more observant!
    Have a wonderful trip! 🙂 Hopefully you’re going someplace nice and cool!

  3. George Rogers

    August 7, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    I used to be up at Vero a lot when my parents were snowbirds there, Can’t recall if there was much Bloodberry. Maybe the armidillos gobbled them up. Headed to Nevada and Utah.

  4. Uncle Tree

    August 7, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    I hope your sense of humor never leaves you, my good man.
    Mother Nature must feel naked when you come around.
    You miss nothing while exploring her inner whims.

    Have a great trip, you two! 🙂 Cheerz, UT

  5. George Rogers

    August 7, 2014 at 6:29 pm

    Uncle Tree, I like your style—your words are fine art….and it’s clear on your site a whole lot of people agree. Thanks so much for adding in.

  6. Judy

    August 31, 2014 at 10:07 am

    Hi George
    Have you noticed the pubescent Rivina humilis before and do you know anything about what appears to be this “ecotype” and why it differs. I have seen it at certain sites and tried to propagate the seeds and had no luck unlike the glabrous Rivina.

    • George Rogers

      August 31, 2014 at 3:24 pm

      Judy, Well, I guess I’ve seen it both ways tho my memory is a little “pubescent.” I studied the plant fairly intensively back in the 80s as part of a broader project but do not recall if the hairiness ties in with anything else. Looks like in Flora of North America, copied in below, the variation is pretty well accounted for. I do not know if glabrous vs. pubescent is a minor genetic variation, or if it has any environmental, clinal, or otherwise geographic component.

      1. Rivina humilis Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 1: 121. 1753.
      Pigeonberry, rougeplant, coralito
      Rivina laevis Linnaeus; R. portulaccoides Nuttall
      Plants erect, straggling, or vinelike, 0.4-2 m, ± glabrous or densely pubescent. Leaves: petiole 1-11 cm; blade lanceolate, elliptic, or oblong to deltate or ovate, to 15 × 9 cm, base cuneate or rounded to truncate or cordate, apex acuminate or acute to obtuse or emarginate. Racemes 4-15 cm; peduncle 1-5 cm; pedicel 2-8 mm. Flowers: sepals white or green to pink or purplish, elliptic or oblong to oblanceolate or obovate, 1.5-3.5 mm; style often curv

  7. Chris Lockhart

    February 5, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    Hi George,

    I don’t seem to get your lovely posts any more. Would you please check if there’s aproblem. My email hasn’t changed and I don’t see these in my spam folder.

    Should be

    It’s been at least a couple of months.

    Hope your class is going well.



  8. George Rogers

    February 5, 2015 at 5:23 pm

    Chris, Well, dang. There’s a post almost every week with no known problem, although my life is one big computer problem. My guess—something is filtering it. You’re not missing much! And hopefully all is excellent with you. I’ve turned my back on boring old flowering plants—developing an obsession with the “lower forms.” Drove Tuesday all the way to Palmdale to take some photos of a sure population of Isoetes flaccida, and could not find them—right where they “were.” Season? Changed conditions? My bad eyes? Just plain missed them? Did meet a jumbo gator and enjoyed a nice Dairy Queen chocolate cone, and that justified the trip. Been following the “hand fern” flap in Briger too—right in my back yard. Wish they had turned it into a park, but I didn’t chain myself to a tree. (Too many mosquitoes,)


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