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Common Pokeweed Identification

Sean has been in the industry of gardening and landscaping since 2006. He is also a certified arborist that specializes in plant health.

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Pokeweed Names

Common Name
Common Pokeweed, American Nightshade, Inkberry

Botanical Name
Phytolacca americana

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Mature Berries

The cluster of berries on a mature pokeweed plant. POISONOUS when consumed.

The cluster of berries on a mature pokeweed plant. POISONOUS when consumed.

Red Stem & Berries

Stems are red and mature berries are dark purple.

Stems are red and mature berries are dark purple.

Identifying Pokeweed

Characteristics
Pokeweed is very toxic to mammals throughout the entire plant. There are claims that some parts are homeopathic, but the risk of poisoning far outnumbers the possible benefits. Pokeweed is a tall, tough perennial. It can grow from 3 to 9 feet tall. The stems are a distinct crimson color. The stem and branches are smooth.

Environment
Rich, low ground pastures, roadsides, fields, fence lines.

Leaves
The leaves grow alternately and are large at the bottom of stem, but smaller towards the top.

Flowers
Small, white, and narrow. The flowers are not "true" flowers due to the petal-like sepals.

Fruit/Seeds
The clustered berries are dark purple with red juice that stains skin and clothing. Fruit begins to form in late summer and into autumn. There are many seeds per berry. The seeds are very poisonous to mammals, but harmless to birds. The digestive system in birds cannot digest the seeds enough to cause poisoning. The seeds are passed by the birds and may germinate upon contacting soil.

Roots
A large, white taproot that is very poisonous.

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Pokeweed Poison

Toxins of Pokeweed

The primary toxins are thought to be oxalic acid, saponins (phytolaccotoxin & phytolaccigenin) and an alkaloid (phytolaccin). Oxalic acid is common in many plants such as spinach and rhubarb, but needs to be cooked to eliminate adverse effects. Care should always be taken when handling, so wear gloves (preferably rubber chemical resistant gloves).

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Eradicating Pokeweed

Destroying the plant before berries begin to appear will help stop future germination. The large taproot must be destroyed which can be difficult. New shoots can arise from the taproot. Glyphosate herbicide can be easily sprayed onto the large leaves, but should only be used while the plant is young. Care needs to be taken when handling all herbicides to prevent spray drifting and harming non-target plants, animals, and people. Proper personal protective equipment should always be used such as chemical resistant gloves, and a respirator if spraying large amounts.

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Round-Up (Glyphosate) Herbicide

Weeds Identification Books

Comments

Sean Hemmer (author) from Wisconsin, USA on March 27, 2012:

If Round-Up for some reason doesn't do the job, use a shovel to separate the crown and stem from the taproot. It is a mighty tough root...may take a little elbow grease to destroy it.

It definitely is a unique plant, but it has its time and place within nature and away from people/pets. It is native to the Midwest, so there's no worries about destroying a few of them.

Sean Hemmer (author) from Wisconsin, USA on March 27, 2012:

It definitely is a strangely attractive plant. Just don't let the berry juice get on your skin and clothes during eradication. It WILL ruin your clothes and turn your skin red for a day or so. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way while at work last summer trying to clear out a fence line full of pokeweed.

Leah Lefler from Western New York on March 27, 2012:

So THAT is what my strange weed is! I had pokeweed come up in our flower bed, and I left it there for a season because it was so unusual. I'm off to use round-up on it - I don't want the kids or the dog to get into it, since it is so poisonous! The purple berries are so pretty, but obviously very dangerous, too.

pctechgo from US on March 27, 2012:

It's too bad the berries from pokeweek are poisonous, they do look soooo good, at least they do in the picture.

Not from the Midwest, but hope to travel through one day, so I don't believe I've ever seen real pokeweeds. However, thanks to your hub, when the day comes I do travel through the Midwest, I'll know this bad plant when I see it.

Melissa Spicer from Kentucky on March 26, 2012:

I think I saw this in my yard. Thanks for the hub, I just happened to "hop" across it.