What is Pokeweed?
Pokeweed (Phytolacca Americana) also known as American pokeweed, is an invasive, non-woody shrub that is native to the eastern half of North America, the Midwest, and the South, with more dispersed populations in the far West. It now grows over most of North America. It also grows naturally in parts of Asia and Europe.
It can be easily identified, specifically when its berries ripen to their distinguishing purple color in late summer. Also in early summer, its huge size compared to other perennial weeds helps in its identification.
Pokeweed is toxic to dogs, livestock, and humans; thus it is wise to remove this weed if pets or children will be in the yard. It is considered a pest species by farmers.
It may be found in riparian areas, fence rows, oak forests, forest openings, forest borders, meadows, vineyards, parks, orchards, under power lines, cultivated fields, and ornamental landscapes.
The leaves, roots, and berries of pokeweed are used as medicine. In foods, berry is used as wine coloring and as a red food coloring agent. Its berry is also used to make dye and ink in manufacturing.
In spite of serious safety concerns, people use this plant for swelling of the nose, throat, and chest, achy muscles and joints (rheumatism), skin infections, and various other conditions. Its young leaves and stems may be eaten after repeated blanching, but if not prepared properly it can cause a range of illnesses and even death in rare circumstances.
While this plant dies back to the ground after the first frost each year, it is a difficult weed to eradicate. Winter only kills the above-ground growth. The plant is viable at the root level and comes back every spring.
What Are The Common Names of Pokeweed?
Pokeweed is also known by other names like poke salad, pokeberry, poke sallet, inkberry, Virginia poke (or simply poke), American nightshade, redweed, red ink plant, pigeonberry, and American spinach.
Pokeweed at a Glance
|Scientific (Botanical) Name
|Herbaceous perennial (some considered it a shrub because of its size)
|2 to 10 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide
|Soil type preference
|A moist, fertile loam
|4 to 8 (United States)
|The eastern half of North America, the Midwest, and the South
|Poke salad, pokeberry, poke sallet, inkberry, Virginia poke (or simply poke), American nightshade, redweed, red ink plant, pigeonberry, and American spinach.
Currently, pokeweed is on the invasive species list of only one U.S. state i.e. California, but its presence in other western U.S. states have also been reported.
Pokeweed is most often associated with the southeastern United States, although it is native to the eastern half of North America (including the Midwest, and the South). In addition to its native region, it can also be found on the West Coast and in New Mexico and Arizona. Its distribution encompasses many USDA hardiness zones.
Although this plant flourishes on rich, uniformly wet soil, it is tolerant to a wide range of conditions. It survives in full sun or partial light and average fertile soil, and it can also withstand moderate drought.
The most important requirement of this plant is good drainage. Due to its adaptability, it is not only found in the wild but also in people’s backyards. It may be found in pastures and fields, as well as open in thickets and open woods. It grows nearly everywhere disturbed ground exists, including roadsides.
Pokeweed is invasive because it displaces native species when it grows outside of its natural area. This plant spreads via seed. It spreads rapidly via seed because of the impact of wild birds feeding on it. These birds, unaffected by the toxin in pokeweed, eat the berries and disperse the seed as it passes through their systems.
Even when invasiveness is not a concern, its toxicity makes it potentially undesirable. If children will be playing in your yard and/or your pets (like dogs, and cats) will be roaming freely on your property, then avoid growing pokeweed in your yard, and also don’t let pokeweed that has spread to your land on its own to remain.
How to Identify Pokeweed?
Pokeweed is a perennial herbaceous plant that has an upright, erect central stem early in the season, which changes to a spreading, horizontal form later due to the weight of the berries. The racemes of ripened berries can be fairly large (up to eight inches long). The berries, initially green, ripen to a striking dark purple hue.
This plant is taller than most of the other weeds, reaching a height of 2 to 10 feet. All of these traits contribute to the attractiveness of this plant.
Often, the height of pokeweed is higher than its breadth. It has several stems. These stems are thick, smooth; and mature to purple color.
The egg-shaped leaves are alternate, with a coarse texture and moderate porosity. Leaves have entire leaf margins and can reach 16 inches (41 centimeters) in length. These are medium green and smooth and exude a bad odor when bruised. The inconspicuous and greenish-white colored flowers begin blooming in early summer and continue till early fall.
This plant dies back to its roots after the first frost each year and comes back every spring.
How to Get Rid of Pokeweed?
Due to its herbaceous form, pokeweed is deceivingly persistent. We are unaware of the reservoir of strength it holds underground. It arises every spring from its strong, substantial taproot. Due to this taproot, hand-pulling is an ineffective technique for its removal. The part of the plant that you are pulling is likely to break off from the taproot, letting it regrow.
But if you still want to remove it manually, then dig out the whole plant (i.e. roots and all) using a shovel.
Use of Distilled Vinegar
Pouring distilled vinegar is a tested and true weed-killer method; it not only works for pokeweed but also for other weeds. The natural acid in distilled vinegar will rapidly burn the roots of this plant.
Using a 50/50 combination of distilled vinegar and water may kill this weed. Spraying this solution on a daily basis on this weed should be enough.
Those who are in good health and who garden organically will opt to remove this plant by digging it up. On the other hand, some people may not mind using chemical herbicides, and some may not be in good health to dig (particularly if the weed is growing in compacted and/or rocky soil). If you belong to one of these groups, you may prefer to remove this weed with the use of an herbicide.
Spraying the leaves with a glyphosate-based solution makes it simple to eradicate pokeweed permanently. Glyphosate acts through the vascular system and it takes a while to see results, eventually, the chemical reaches the roots.
Though, this solution has some issues. Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide, which means it is harmful to all plants that it comes into contact with. So, be careful not to spray it on any of the plants you want to keep.
Other chemicals to control pokeweed are 2,4 D and dicamba. Use spot applications on this weed as it occurs in your garden.
One important thing to note here is that you should protect yourself by wearing goggles, gloves, long trousers, a long-sleeved shirt, etc. while spraying glyphosate because of the potential health risks associated with its usage.
Follow the following instructions while spraying Glyphosate solution, so to have a proper effect of this herbicide on pokeweed:
- So that you spray glyphosate on the leaves and nothing else, don’t spray this solution on a windy day.
- Glyphosate is most effective when plants are coated with it and then exposed to strong sunlight for many hours.
- Avoid spraying this solution when rain is predicted since the rain would prematurely wash the herbicide off the leaves.
- Use this herbicide when pokeweed is actively growing (summer or early fall).
Frequently Asked Questions About Pokeweed
Can You Burn Pokeweed?
Burning is a dangerous method of disposal of pokeweed. Because, if you burn any portion of this plant that is still fresh, poisons will get released and make you sick.
But if you still want to dispose of it by burning it, then you should wait until it has totally dried up.
Can You Eat Pokeweed Berries?
To color vinegar and wine in various Asian locations, people use berries. Native South Americans also used to use pokeweed berries in their pies.
But, with varying levels of bodily sensitivity or without adequate preparations, you may become poisoned and may die in a matter of minutes. So, it’s better not to put your health in danger by eating pokeweed berries.
What Happens If I Touch Pokeweed?
Poisonous compounds and sap found in this weed can cause rashes, and a few of these toxins can enter your circulation. So, it’s better to wear gloves whenever you’re working with this weed.
1) Phytolacca Americana – NC State University
2) Pokeweed management guidelines – UC IPM
3) Pokeweed – Uaex.uada.edu
4) Pokeweed: A giant of a weed! – UC ANR
5) Common Pokeweed Identification and Management – Penn State Extension
6) Invasive Plants Atlas