30 August 2011

Phytolacca americana L. – American Pokeweed

OK First, click on this link and listen to the ode written about a native weed.
The birds plant it and I pull it up when I see it. If it isn't destroyed it will put down a root that grows to the center of the earth. Some gardeners love poke weed, grow it or at least leave it in place where the birds planted it. It's just too prolific for my taste.

Poke weed has many names: pokebush, polk salad (as in the song above), inkberry, etc. Benjamin Franklin used the juice of mature berries as ink for a quill pen and he called it Inkweed. Early American colonists used the crushed berries as a purple dye. Plus, they fermented the juice and used it to spike cheap wine. (See Wildflowers of the Escambia - fabulous site - http://wildflowers.jdcc.edu)

Locals like to harvest the young leaves in the spring, then boil them in two or three changes of water to remove the poisonous phytolaccatoxin and phytolaccigenin. The boiled leaves are called poke salad.

The birds, who love to eat the seeds and replant them, are not affected by the poison. In their digestive process, the seeds' hard covering is not broken down to release the toxin. So, the birds deposit the seeds all over the place, fertilized and ready to grow.



USDA Plants Profile

If you decide to have poke plants around for the birds, be sure to keep children away from the plants.

They are attracted to the gorgeous, mature berries.




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