Wild Weeds – Pokeweed

Wild Weeds – Weed of the Month

American Pokeweed

Phytolacca americana

This month our featured wild weed is a bit famous, some may remember the song Poke Salad Annie by Tony White. Often seen from the roadside due to the bright red coloring of the stalks of mature plants, contrasting to the vibrant green color of the leaves, this weed is sure to stand out.  The berries are often used for dyes and will produce a purplish red color, even lightly handling the berries will turn your hands a deep purple.  Someone strolling through a natural area like forest land in the summer will notice the unique clusters of berries that start off green and shriveled and mature into purple, plump berries. The plant is a perennial, meaning it will re-grow year after year. Birds spread the seeds after consuming the berries which causes this weed to pop up in unexpected locations. Pokeweed is native to the eastern U.S.

Plant Toxicity

The plant is most toxic at the root stock and decreases toxicity in the steams, leaves, and berries. Mature plants are the most toxic. Children could need emergency treatment if even one berry is consumed. Although human deaths are rare it can cause severe discomfort. Livestock or wildlife may accidentally graze the plant or consume if it if other desirable forage is not available. Eating the plant can often cause digestive issues and death in animals due to the toxic nature.

Keep an eye out this summer for American Pokeweed on the roadside but admire it from a distance. These plants serve as a vital source of food for songbirds and other bird species, so if you run across them in a natural area, leave them be. If they are in your yard or garden area it is best to remove them as they can reach heights of 8+ feet and you wouldn’t want to risk accidental toxic exposure.

 

Wild Weeds is a monthly spotlight written by Alicia Halbritter, Baker County Agriculture & Natural Resources Agent. Wild Weeds highlights weeds you may find in Florida on the roadside, while hiking, in the forest, or possibly even in your yard. Searching for more information on a particular plant? Email Alicia at aliciah1221@ufl.edu for more information/questions. 

2 Comments on “Wild Weeds – Pokeweed

  1. Alicia,
    I must say you make this plant sound much more dangerous than any other article I’ve read about it, even one by your University. I’m always happy to have it my yard when it appears. I have one now that’s every bit of 10′ tall and almost as wide. Beautiful plant!!

    How can the Song Birds and Deer eat this without being harmed?

    Thanks for everything you guys do. I love getting and reading all the blogs. Very informative.

    • John,

      Pokeberry are toxic, and symptoms can range from mild to severe based on each persons own reaction. Similar to how you can eat peanut butter just fine, but someone who is allergic (more sensitive) will have a severe reaction. Here is some information from poison control: https://www.poison.org/articles/2012-aug/pokeberries-and-grapes-look-alike

      Birds and other animals can consume the berries because 1. They often only eat them when completely ripe when toxins are relatively low, and 2. They have some type of digestive mechanism that makes them less sensitive or immune to the toxins.

      It is a beautiful plant, and people are welcome to keep the plant around to feed the wildlife, but should be mindful of children’s interaction with the plant.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *