Sometimes referred to as Pokeberry, this fascinating native plant can look like a young tree sapling reaching heights up to 10′ tall! Clusters of small white flowers develop into black berries that are an important late-season food source for local wildlife. An enthusiastic grower (some might say, aggressive) pokeweed can be cut down only to reappear and spread further to form a dense shrub-like stand. Adaptable to a variety of growing conditions, it is often found in areas with soil disturbance or along fence rows.
Other Common Names: Pokeberry, Pokeweed, Bear’s Grape, Pidgeon Berry, Poke Sallet, Virginia Poke, Inkweed, Skoke
USDA Zones: 4 – 8
Life Cycle: Herbaceous Perennial
Height: 4.00′ – 10.00′
Spread: 3.00′ – 5.00′
Sun: Full Sun – Part Sun
Soil: Low, Rich, Disturbed Soil, Well-Drained
Bloom Time: July – September
Bloom Color: White
Uses: Naturalize, Back of the Border, Fence-row
Native Range: BONAP Map
- Spreads enthusiastically; may overwhelm small landscapes
- Produces large fleshy taproot 4″ – 6″ in diameter and can be over 12″ long
- Long bloom time; flowers and fruit produced simultaneously on same plant
- Green berries form July-September; berries ripen to black August-October
- Seeds viable in soil 40-50 years
- Moderately deer resistant
- Black Walnut juglone tolerant
- Toxic to humans, pets, and livestock if consumed
- Host plant for : Giant Leopard Moths
- Nectar plant for: Hummingbirds, Bees, Flies
- Berries for 15+ Species of Song Birds: Wood Thrushes, Cardinals, Catbirds, Bluebirds, Robins, Cedar Waxwings, Pileated Woodpeckers, etc
- Seeds important winter diet for Mourning Doves
- Food source for mammals: Deer, Opossums, Raccoons, Foxes, Bears, Coyotes, Mice, Squirrels
Relatively disease and pest free. Occasionally affected by Mosaic Virus.
PLEASE NOTE: Like all native plants, Pokeweed is an important food source for many creatures. Some years they may be more affected by insects than others. However, these insects provide essential food for birds and other wildlife as part of a balanced, intricate food web. Instead of reaching for pesticides at the first sign of leaf damage, consider grabbing your magnifying glass or binoculars and observe what visitors are frequenting your amazing native plant!
A Word Of Caution
It is argued by some that one must wear gloves when handling any part of Pokeweed. However, there is generally no harm in physically touching the leaves or berries (consuming them is the problem!). That said, different people have different skin sensitivities. When handling any plant it is important to be cautious until you know how it will affect you personally.
Some people collect very young early spring leaves. These are boiled in multiple batches of water to try and minimize toxicity. The dish is called Poke Sallet (or Poke Salad). Please do not consume plants that you are not intimately acquainted with. Improperly prepared, this dish could have harmful side affects.
A CLOSER LOOK
DID YOU KNOW?
It is rumored that the berries from Phytolacca americana were used to make the ink that the Declaration of Independence was signed with. In reality, that important document was created with iron gall ink. However, some sources suggest the early drafts may have been penned with pokeberry ink.
In order to provide the maximum benefit to pollinators, it is best to plan for a succession of blooms. This ensures that as one species fades, another begins to blossom. In this way, a constant source of nectar and pollen is provided from spring through fall. The following natives enjoy similar growing conditions to Phytolacca americana:
- Wingstem – Verbesina alternifolia
- Common Milkweed – Asclepias syrica
- Virgin’s Bower – Clematis virginiana
- Ironweed – Veronia spp.
- Black Walnut – Juglans nigra
- Common Yarrow – Achillea millefolium
- Goldenrod – Solidago spp.
- Elderberry – Sambucus canadensis
- Asters – Symphyotrichum spp.
- Horseweed – Erigeron canadensis
- Common Evening Primrose – Oenothera biennis
- Common Boneset – Eupatorium perfoliatum