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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Saturday - August 09, 2014

From: Shawnee, OK
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Identification, Poisonous Plants, Shrubs, Vines
Title: Identification of bush/vine with purple berries
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I was clearing fence line and came across this plant it looks like a Bush but underneath grows like a vine it has long broad leaves that reminded me of Polk salad but it grows berry clusters the berries go from green to a dark purple the leaves are a darker green and some have purple on the underneath side of the stem I am the only person I know who breaks out after handling this plant so if you could help me figure out what it might be I'd greatly appreciate it

ANSWER:

I'm not quite sure what you mean by the plant growing like a vine underneath.   Did you mean that it lies across the ground before growing upwards?   I'm a little confused about that description.   Phytolacca americana (American pokeweed) might possibly lie across the ground before growing up into a bush if it were blocked some way where it grew out of the ground.  It does have clusters of green berries that turn purple.  Although young leaves and shoots are edible if properly prepared, older parts of the plant are highly toxic according to North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension.  They do not mention any skin contact causing rashes.  The Botanical Dermatology Database (BoDD) says that although it has been used to treat some skin conditions (e.g., psora), its juice causes a burning sensation on the skin and dust from the dried root and aspects of the fresh plant can cause eye irritation.

Two vines that grow in Oklahoma have clusters of green berries that ripen to purple.   The leaves of neither of these are very large.  They are:  1)  Smilax rotundifolia (Roundleaf greenbrier) and here are photos from Virginia Tech.  2)  Smilax herbacea (Smooth carrionflower).  The BoDD doesn't list any dermatitis occurring from contact with any species of Smilax, but it has been used medicinally.

If none of these are the plant you found and you have (or can take) photos of it, please go to our Plant Identification page to find links for several plant identification forums that will accept photos of plants for identification.

 

From the Image Gallery


American pokeweed
Phytolacca americana

American pokeweed
Phytolacca americana

American pokeweed
Phytolacca americana

Smooth carrionflower
Smilax herbacea

Smooth carrionflower
Smilax herbacea

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