Common Pokeweed Identification
Common Pokeweed, American Nightshade, Inkberry
Red Stem & Berries
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.
Rich, low ground pastures, roadsides, fields, fence lines.
The leaves grow alternately and are large at the bottom of stem, but smaller towards the top.
Small, white, and narrow. The flowers are not "true" flowers due to the petal-like sepals.
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.
A large, white taproot that is very poisonous.
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).
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.