Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Can I eat that?

Some students in a 4th grade classroom asked a very good question yesterday.  They have been reading the book Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.  In the book, the main character Brian observes birds eating some berries and decides that they are safe to eat based on that observation.  They wanted to know if you see a bird eating berries, does that mean that those berries are safe for you to eat?

Cedar Waxwings eating the fruit from Eurpoean Buckthorn and Riverbank Grape

Fruits and berries can be placed into three categories. Some of them are edible (can be eaten) for people, some of them are inedible (may taste bad or cause sickness), and some are toxic (highly poisonous).  Birds commonly eat fruits from all three of these categories.  A bird eating a fruit or berry does not mean that it is safe for you to eat.

Let me repeat that:  A bird eating a fruit or berry does NOT mean that it is safe for you to eat!

Would you eat this berry if you found it in the woods?

It looks a lot like a bunch of small white grapes, but it's actually Poison Ivy!  Birds love Poison Ivy berries, but to people they are toxic.

The next picture has three different kinds of berries.  Two of them are edible and one is inedible

The red berries are Highbush Cranberry, the white are Red-Osier Dogwood, and the blue are a species of wild grape.

Highbush Cranberry - Edible

Red-Osier Dogwood - Inedible

Wild Grapes - Edible
Did you know which ones were edible?  There are eleven pictures of fruit below.  Some of them are edible, some are not edible, some are toxic.  To make things confusing, some of them are toxic until they are ripe; once they are ripe they become edible.  See how many you think are edible.  Look at the pictures before you read the captions. 

Morrow's Honeysuckle - Inedible

Carrion Flower - Edible, but does not taste good

Jack-in-the-pulpit - Inedible

May Apple - Edible when ripe. Toxic when not ripe.  This fruit is not ripe.
White Baneberry - Toxic

Ground Cherry - Edible when ripe.  Toxic when unripe.  This fruit is not ripe.

Staghorn Sumac - Edible

Black Nightshade - Toxic

Black Cherry - Edible

Silky Dogwood - Inedible

Blackberry - Edible
How many of the plants did you recognize?  I bet that most people probably felt pretty good about identifying the Blackberry as edible, but didn't do too well with the rest.  The general rule is:  If you are not 100% sure if a fruit is edible, do not eat it.  The only way you can be sure if a fruit is edible is if an expert has told you that it is safe to eat.  Do not take chances eating a fruit you do not know - some of the fruits are toxic enough to kill you even in small doses.  Enjoy the outdoor, but be safe.

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