How to Identify a Tree with Red Berries

Red berries make bright and beautiful additions to any tree or bush. Sometimes, they're also a delicious and nutritious treat, either for you or the local wildlife in your area. Other times, though, red berries can contain ingredients that could be harmful to eat. An understanding of the types of trees and bushes that contain red berries can help you understand which berries to share and which to avoid.

Firethorn Pyracantha Coccinea Fruit
credit: Jobalou/iStock/GettyImages
How to Identify a Tree with Red Berries

Tree Identification

It's easy to spot a bush or tree with red berries since the bright bulbs often stand out against the green or brown of the trees. But it's not as easy to identify exactly what type of red berry bush or tree it may be. One good place to start is to identify the tree by leaf. Most trees have one of three types of leaves:

Needles: You can often find needle-shaped leaves on trees that bear cones, such as pine and evergreen trees.

Scales: Many berry-bearing trees have scaly leaves. They're often near the twig and, as the name implies, are scaly and may have bulbs or berries at their tips.

Broadleaf: These are the flat, broad leaves associated with common trees like oaks and maples.

Red Berry Identification

If you're not sure what type of tree or bush you're seeing, you can also try to identify it by the berry. Here are some of the most common red berries that grow on trees and shrubs:

Honeysuckle: Sometimes, red berries grow on honeysuckle shrubs in the United States. They're bright red, bulbous and sticky and grow close to the twig near the stem of the broad leaves of the honeysuckle plant. They're not as poisonous to humans as some berries, unless eaten in large quantities, but still shouldn't be eaten.

Firethorn: Also known as pyracantha, these red berries grow in dense clusters so numerous that the tree can appear red from far away. The tree also produces small white flowers. The berry is too bitter to eat when raw, but some people cook it and make it into jams and sauces.

Dogwood: Found in shady, wooded areas, you can identify a red dogwood berry by the black spot found on one side of it and its yellow center. They grow in small clusters close to the twig on dogwood trees. Birds love them, but they're toxic for humans.

Rose hip: These red berries can sometimes be a deep purple as well and are distinguishable by the hairs that grow out from the bottom of the berries. You should avoid those hairs if you want to eat the berries, but many people use them to make jams, soups, beverages, wine and herbal teas.

Barberry: These oval-shaped berries grow on thorny bushes and hang from the twigs like ornaments. Inside, the berries have two brown seeds. They're a little too bitter for most people's tastes, but some people enjoy them in teas or juices.

Holly: One of the most popular decorative plants during the winter holiday season, these small, bright red berries have one seed. They're attached to shiny, dark green leaves with pointy spikes. While you might see birds enjoying them, stay away from them yourself and keep them away from kids or pets if you use them in holiday decorations. In humans, they can cause vomiting or diarrhea.

Proceeding With Caution

If you're still not sure what type of berry you see, it's best to err on the side of safety and stay away until you can positively identify it. Additionally, if you have a houseplant that contains toxic red berries, make sure you keep it away from children and pets. If you've ingested red berries and start experiencing any side effects, such as diarrhea, stomach cramps, blurry vision or swelling of the face, lips or throat, contact a medical professional immediately.


Rachelle Dragani

Rachelle Dragani is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn with extensive experience covering the lifestyle space. Her work on topics including smart home technology, pest control, living green, budget home repair and helpful household tips have appeared in publications including Bob Vila, Esquire, Popular Mechanics, Gizmodo and Yahoo.