/Poke Berry -
Multiple scientific names:
(Phytolacca americana),
(Phytolacca thyrsiflora),
(Ohytolacca decandra)

This plant is native to Eastern and mid-western United States and has scattered populations in western part of country.

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"Poke" comes from the Indian word "Pokan" which is any plant that produces a dye, usually red or yellow. This plant is widely known for it's berries being used as ink.

Most names stem from this long history of the bush and it's many uses.

Names include: Inkberry/Ink Berry, Pigeon Berry, Pokeweed/Poke Weed, Pokeroot/Poke Root, Redweed/Red Weed, Skokum, Scoke (also spelled Skoke), Garget and Coakum.

This list can go on...

This herbaceous perennial weed surfaces late spring to early summer then begins to die back in fall, surfacing again the next growing season. Birds love the berries from this plant and it is noted that after dining on them they act drunk. They are immune to it's poison, mammals are not.

For mammals a mature plant is poisonous, especially the roots, stems and dark clustered berries because of the seeds. If touched this weed can also be a skin irritant. Young tender leaves are edible when boiled thoroughly and often used for many variations of a poke salad. Seedless cooked berries are used for pies. The weed also has many medicinal values including having an effectiveness relieving arthritis pain, often made into salves.

This grows mostly as a shrub but in time can grow very high where it looks like a tree, growing as high as as a person. The average height is about 6 feet but can be as tall as 10 feet.

Early in growing season there is an upright, erect central stem. Stems are green when plant is young and as it matures changing color to reddish-purple. Stems are smooth, non-woody in texture and hollow.

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Leaves are simple. Simple leaves have only one blade where edges can be smooth, toothed, etc.

Leaves alternate up the stem and have a coarse texture. Their length averages between 4 to 10 inches and in extreme cases can also grow up to 16 inches. They also can have an unpleasant odor.

Small pinkish/white flowers grow July through September on an upright stem.

Small green berries developing from the flowers eventually become heavy where stems begin to droop. Mature berries are a deep purple, almost black color.

A large white taproot is established early on with this plant while the surface only shows a few shoots. After this root is established it begins to spread horizontally to carry the weight of the berries it will grow.

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Pokeberry is found growing in all types of soil. It grows along road sides to natural areas such as forests primarily in the sun. It can grow in shade but it is not abundant. It is most commonly found growing in bulldozed and disturbed waste areas.

This weed propagates by seed and usually doesn't become invasive. Be aware if bird gardening, pollination by birds is the fastest method with how this weed can become invasive.

Catch early and dig it up when it is young. Otherwise cut it back regularly and even mow over it for various manual methods of manual removal. This usually takes years.

           Killing with chemicals is not as effective, if at all.


  • Poisoning from Pokeberry was more common centuries back. It can still happen, especially to various [grazing] animals that consume the weed. Symptoms show within a few hours after consumption.

    Symptoms include salivation, burning of mouth and throat, ultimately becoming a gastrointestinal irritant. Eventually abdominal pain, vomiting, bloody diarrhea and spasms/convulsions occur. Sometimes animals can build an immunity to this shrub, but many will still die.
Poke Weed Poison
  • This poisonous plant is often mistaken for the Elderberry bush, which is not poisonous and loved by birds to.

  • Remember Elvis Presley sang Polk Salad Annie?
             No, not Poke Salad Annie. OK, I can't resist...
                             You'll smile all the way to the end ;)

..and how did we get from Poke to Polk?

While running for President of the United States, James K. Polk supporters reportedly wore Poke-leaves in support of the 11th President. This is how the term Polkweed came to be.

Related Articles:

Back from Pokeberry to Weed Identification

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