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Pokeweed – a southern character in yard and on table

Pokeweed is one of those plants whose flowers have no petals. There are instead, five sepals, white or pink, which appear to be petals, and thus are said to be “petaloid.” Many stamens are included within each flower, as are a number of pistils, all arranged in a ring. These beautiful plants get to be 5 or 6 feet tall (sometimes taller). Late in the summer, the plants’ stems commonly become bright red, especially if growing in the sun. The young berries, first green and hard, swell, becoming a lustrous purple-black, marvelously shiny. The mature berries are full of juice, and a number of seeds. The juice has been used a sort of dye for fabrics, or even “war paint” for young renegades…but be warned: this juice really can stain your clothing (or skin)! Various bird species don’t mind eating these succulent fruits, and you can often see the artful purplish windshield trails and splotches provided by our avian friends.

This common plant is a weed, generally, most often found in sunny places that have been recently disturbed. Roadsides, windrows, and forest tip-ups are frequent sites. It is fairly common throughout the eastern United States and eastern Canada.

The proper recipes for producing a mess of greens from Pokeweed involve boiling the young leaves two or three times, changing the water on each occasion. You can actually purchase this delicacy, canned, or find various recipes for its preparation, picked yourself. Most of these recipes involve a considerable amount of fatback or ham hocks, tomatoes and some hot peppers. Maybe some chopped onions. Wow, this really is starting to sound good!

Nelson is the curator of the A. C. Moore Herbarium in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of South Carolina. As a public service, the Herbarium offers free plant identifications. For more information, visit or call 803-777-8196.


 (Photo by John Nelson Pokeweed may make good eating, but getting rid of these plants often considered weeds can be tough.)

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