Random Plant: American pokeweed

American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana, Phytolaccaceae) photographed 10/17/2010 near Blissfield Michigan.

While out in a local floodplain forest I came across an unusual plant I hadn’t noticed before.  It had huge leaves that were starting to turn red in the cool fall air, and it resembled a tropical plant.  After some research I learned this was an American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana, Phytolaccaceae).

Huge leaf of an American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana, Phytolaccaceae) photographed 10/17/2010 near Blissfield Michigan.

I suspect this plant is more well-known in the south.  It seems pretty uncommon here in Michigan, at least in the plant communities I frequent.  On top of that, a number of southern towns have festivals dedicated to this plant and its culinary and medicinal uses.

Although all parts of this plant contain numerous toxins, with some careful preparation it can be ingested.  Leaves can be eaten as greens once boiled repeatedly to cleanse them.  Ripe berries can be made into jams and pies once the poisonous seeds are removed.  Additionally, different parts are used in a vast number of folk remedies.  More recently it was discovered that a certain protein in this plant may have promise in treating AIDS.

Berries of an American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana, Phytolaccaceae) photographed 10/17/2010 near Blissfield Michigan.

Despite all I learned about this plant, I still don’t know why it’s called “pokeweed.”  There didn’t seem to be anything pokey about it.

By the time Halloween rolled around a couple of weeks later, this plant had reached the end of the road:

American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana, Phytolaccaceae) photographed 10/31/2010 near Blissfield Michigan.

Now that these plants have caught my attention, I’ll have to keep an eye out for more of them next year.

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About Jeremy Sell

Science and nature nerd.
This entry was posted in Botany, Random Plant and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Random Plant: American pokeweed

  1. Jim Martin says:

    I love the name… there must be a story there.

    Like

  2. Jeremy Sell says:

    According to someone at Ohio State University’s extension, “pokeweed” is an anglicized version of the Native American name. That name is based on their word for “blood,” since the plant could be used for red dye.

    Like

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