Pretty Poisonous Pokeweed

mature pokeweed berries

A common sight in Virginia now are the purple berries hanging from green shrubs along the roadside. Pokeweed (Phytolacca decandra) is an herbaceous perennial, considered a weed by most gardeners. Pokeweed is easy to find on roadsides, fields, and ditches as birds eat the berries and drop the seeds. From summer to fall, pokeweed blooms small white flowers on peduncles (stems) making them stick out. In the fall, the berries appear first as flatten green balls with a dimple in the center on hot pink racemes and later, as if they had been inflated, as deep purple, ΒΌ -inch balls on red racemes. The contrast of purple and red or green and pink is so pretty that pokeweed is often used for fall floral arrangements.

immature pokeweed berries

Pokeweed berries are attractive but it is important to know that all parts of the plant are poisonous. Some people even get rashes from touching the plant. If you have children or see pokeweed in areas where children frequent such as school playgrounds, you should remove the plants. Pull the thick stems after a rain when the soil is loose and when the plants are young. If they mature, they develop taproots, making them difficult to remove completely. If you are not worried about children, consider growing them as a native food source for birds in your garden.

white pokeweed flowers with both green immature and purple mature berries in background

7 responses to “Pretty Poisonous Pokeweed

  1. We deal with a lot of this up this way.

  2. This just arrived here a few years ago as an invasive exotic. It makes a nice brown ink, although it starts out as bright magenta. I do not use it in my good pens, but it is just fine for quills. Some people like the young shoots, but I do not care for it. I do not doubt that it is good, but there are so many better vegetables to grow, and I can not think of any that are so TOXIC if harvested too late! I mean, why would I wast so much space in my garden on such a big plant that provides only a small bit of edible parts, especially if those edible shoots would be toxic if too mature when harvested?!? I would prefer to just get rid of it if it shows up.

  3. I like the way it looks, but, I don’t like the way it seeds. I try to eradicate it whenever I find it.

  4. My mother reported eating the ripe berries as a child, she lived to 85. The berries make an ink of lovely color. We have for generations eaten the spring shoots as a boiled green and is a popular food among country folk. . Tradition was to cook in two waters. Use vinegar and butter. I limit my pickings to no more than 12″ tall. The root is strong medicine to be used carefully, stimulates the lymph glands. Read an herbal to study. My dog got sick from chewing on a root in the process of digging after a vole.

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