American Poke

Phytolacca americana

American Poke

Also known as Virginia poke, American nightshade, pokeweed, and pokeberry, among other names, this native perennial is a towering beauty in fallow fields. American poke grows very tall (6-12 ft!) and typically inhabits waste areas and edge habitat.

The leaves of American poke are simple, alternate, lanceolate, entire, and very large (up to 16 inches in length). The stems can range from light green to a distinctive rhubarb-red or magenta.

In spring and summer, the new flowers of this plant are borne on a pendant raceme. Each flower is very small, with 5 white sepals that look like petals (but are not). The flowers give way to mature fruits later in the summer; the long cluster of fruit consists of berries that ripen to such a dark shade of purple that they almost appear black. Birds eat the berries and disperse the seeds.

Poke is toxic to livestock and humans.  However, some parts of the plant have historically been used as food, medicine, dye, or even poison. Very specific preparation techniques are required to rid the plant of  toxic chemicals, so I don’t recommend experimenting with it.  The roots are the most poisonous parts of the plant, followed by the leaves, stems, and berries.

But all said, the flowers, berries, and stems of American poke are quite beautiful, so enjoy the slideshow below!