A herbaceous perennial plant growing to 50 cm (1.6 ft) or more tall. It has toothed, bipinnate compound leaves up to 40 cm (16 in) long and 30 cm (12 in) broad.
The white flowers are produced in spring in a dense raceme about 10 cm long. Its most striking feature is its fruit, a 1 cm (1⁄2 in) diameter white berry, whose size, shape, and black stigma scar give the species its other common name, “doll’s eyes”. The pedicels on which the berries grow are thicker than those of the related species, red baneberry (Actaea rubra). This is the reason for the species name pachypoda, which means “thick foot”, from Ancient Greek παχύς pakhús “thick” and πούς poús “foot”. The pedicels thicken and become bright red as the berries develop.
The berries ripen over the summer, turning into a fruit that persists on the plant until frost.
Both the berries and the entire plant are considered poisonous to humans. The berries contain cardiogenic toxins which can have an immediate sedative effect on human cardiac muscle tissue, and are the most poisonous part of the plant. Ingestion of the berries can lead to cardiac arrest and death.
The berries are harmless to birds, the plant’s primary seed dispersers