Thursday, September 4, 2014

In praise of pokeweed

Phytolacca americana

Phytolacca americana L.!
You are reviled in the online gardening discussions,
Weedy, invasive, hard to control
But if you're a weed, you're just doing what weeds do:
Growing where you can, when you can, conspiring with the birds to spread
And like your friends the catbirds and mockingbirds you were here first
(Along with poison ivy, virginia creeper, so many other "weeds")
You even predate the honeybees on your flowers (they came with us!)
So who are we to say you don't belong?
This land is your land, it always was:
Even Linnaeus recognized that you are as americana as we are, if not more.


As for me...
You take me back to when I was just a kid (albeit an odd child)
Using the beautiful magenta juice from your berries as ink
And when other teenagers were experimenting with marijuana
I was experimenting with a "weed" of another kind,
One that grew taller than me, huge leaves hinting at the tropics
But with tender spring shoots;
(My mother never knew if these things were going to kill me--
the shaggy mane mushrooms made her especially nervous,
although they were among the few mushrooms I could confidently identify--
but pokeweed, you're certainly poisonous if not prepared properly,
or so they say, I never tried boiling you only once; I wasn't that adventurous)
And with a bit of butter you were delicious.

Phytolacca americana

[After writing this, I came across this very nice blog post on the same subject at Nadia's Backyard: Pokeweed, American (Phytolacca americana): The Jekyll and Hyde Plant]


  1. What a great post! I feel the same about dandelions. Aren't they beautiful?

  2. I think its a very attractive plant, and would love to get hold of the variegated one someday!

  3. I thought I was alone in enjoying this plant. The variegated form is also beautiful!

  4. I have a mossy front yard & won't remove it. I also purposely grow dandielions & milkweed in my yard. Love it!

  5. I had an immense one growing in front of my previous house one season. The only problem was the berries did stain. It's a marvelous plant, as are dandelions. (Aren't they all?)

  6. In the south this is known as poke sallat and enjoyed with meals. I've never eaten it but think it's pretty.

  7. Wow, so many comments in just a couple of days on this one post! Looks like I struck a nerve! Thank you everybody for sharing your love (or at least appreciation) of this plant with me!