Ontario Weeds: Pokeweed

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Excerpt from Publication 505, Ontario Weeds, Order this publication

Table of Contents

  1. Name
  2. Other Names
  3. Family
  4. General Description
  5. Stems and Roots
  6. Leaves
  7. Flowers and Fruit
  8. Habitat
  9. Similar Species
  10. Caution
  11. Related Links

Name: Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana L.,

Other Names: phytolaque d'Amérique, Inkweed, Pokeberry, phytolaque commun, raisin d'Amérique

Family: Pokeweed Family (Phytolaccaceae)

General Description: Perennial, reproducing only by seed.

Photos and Pictures








Stems & Roots: Stems erect, usually 1-2m (3-6½ft) high but up to 3m (10ft) high, smooth and hairless, pinkish to bright red, dying down to the ground each year; these produced from a thick perennial taproot, as much as 10-15cm (4-6in.) in diameter and very poisonous;

Leaves: Leaves alternate (1 per node), the lower quite large, up to 30-50cm (12-20in.) long and about 1/3 as wide, upper leaves shorter and smaller and with shorter leafstalks; all leaves usually dark green above, lighter green to pinkish-green below and with prominent pinkish veins.

Flowers & Fruit: Flowers greenish-white to pinkish in slender racemes at the ends of the main stem and branches. There are no petals, 5 petal-like sepals, 5 to 30 stamens but usually only 10, and a ring of 10 pistils in the centre; at maturity these form a flat, ring- ring-shaped, juicy, purplish berry with 4 to 10 (usually about 6) sections, each with 1 large hard seed. The whole plant, but especially the ripe berries, has an intense purplish-red juice that was used for dyeing. Flowers from June to October.

Habitat: Pokeweed is a native plant which occurs in meadows, edges of woods and waste areas in the southwestern part of southern Ontario; elsewhere in the province it may persist in old gardens after having been cultivated for the young leafy sprouts which are used as a green vegetable if properly cooked and re-cooked, with the cooking water discarded 3 times.

Similar Species: The soft, smooth, fleshy texture of leaves and young stems and the absence of an ocrea at the base of each leaf distinguish Pokeweed from Lamb's-quarters, Pigweeds and the Docks, respectively, with which it might be confused. The flat, juicy, 4 - -10-seeded purplish berries arranged in a spike at the ends of smooth stems and branches distinguish it from wild blackberries and raspberries.

Caution: The plant is poisonous to livestock.

Related Links

... on general Weed topics
... on weed identification, order OMAFRA Publication 505: Ontario Weeds
... on weed control, order OMAFRA Publication 75: Guide To Weed Control

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