Common pokeweed

Encyclopedia Article

Common pokeweed             Phytolacca americana L.

Family:   Phytolaccaceae (Pokeweed family)
Life cycle:  Perennial reproducing by seed
Native status: Native to N. America
Habitat:  Waste areas, landscapes, no-till fields

General description:  Large, branched herbaceous perennial producing a large taproot and reaching heights of 9 ft.  Emerging shoots resemble asparagus with large leaves. Leaves are alternate, egg-shaped to lanceolate, glabrous, up to 12” long and 4” wide. Stems frequently red or purple.  Flowers produced on terminal racemes, white developing into dark purple berries.

Key ID traits:  Branched plant with large, lanceolate leaves with entire or wavy margin.  Raceme of white flowers or purple berries.

Miscellaneous:  Although all parts of the plant contain toxins, when shoots or leaves are harvested early and boiled they are safe and were widely used as a salad green in the south. Young shoots can be prepared similar to asparagus. In 1969, Polk Salad Annie, a song by Tony Joe White, reached #8 in the Top 100.

branched plant with alternate, lanceolate leaves
Branched plant with alternate, lanceolate leaves

raceme with immature, green berries. Seedhead is initially white
Raceme with immature, green berries. Seedhead initially is white.

at one time pokeweed was canned for use as greens
At one time pokeweed was canned for use as greens

Weed ID Factsheets Index