Ripe pokeweed berries. Photo by Bob Richmond.
A mature pokeweed plant may be up to 10 feet tall. Photo: Cornell University.
Pokeweed berries in varying stages of ripeness. Photo by Cyndy Simms Parr.
By Joseph Mooney
This week’s native plant is American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana).
It’s another one of those plants that, once seen, is never mistaken for anything else. At 10 or more feet tall a mature pokeweed towers over its underlings. In late summer and fall, hanging clusters of purple-black berries ornament the reddish stems. The main stem where it meets the ground can be the diameter of a young sapling. And then there’s the taproot—an enormous beast 4 or more inches wide and very difficult to dig up. (Personal experience.)
From the looks of P. americana you might think, this can’t possibly be a native plant. And yet it’s found throughout eastern North America, from Ontario to Maine to Florida, west to Texas and north to Wisconsin. It’s even popped up in western states such as California, according to the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Young pokeweed shoots. Photo: Ohio State University.
Young pokeweed leaves. Photo: Ohio State University.
Pokeweed grows an enormous root that may be up to 4 inches wide. Photo: Ohio State University.