Pokeweed

Phytolacca americana

SUMMARY

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.

DETAILS

Other Common Names: Pokeberry, Pokeweed, Bear’s Grape, Pidgeon Berry, Poke Sallet, Virginia Poke, Inkweed, Skoke

Family: Phytolaccaceae

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

Moisture: Medium

Bloom Time: July – September

Bloom Color: White

Uses: Naturalize, Back of the Border, Fence-row

Native Range: BONAP Map

Native Range Color Key: Dk. Green = Present in State and Native, Lt. Green= Present and Not Rare, Yellow = Present and Rare, Gold = Not Present in State, Teal = Present and Exotic, Cross-Hatched = Questionable Presence

NOTEWORTHY CHARACTERISTICS

  • 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

FAUNAL ASSOCIATIONS

PESTS/DISEASES

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

The ideal habitat: Low lying sunny area where soil is disturbed every few years by spring flooding.
Strong succulent stems stand upright around 4.00′ – 10.00′ tall. They are smooth, round, and green in the spring. As the seasons progress, the stems slowly mature to bold pink hues.
August 18, 2020 – Green berries have developed where flowers used to be.

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.

COMPANION PLANTS

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:

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