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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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Tuesday - May 21, 2013

From: Waterford, CA
Region: California
Topic: Poisonous Plants
Title: Beneficial characteristics of Phytolacca americana (Pokeweed)
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I have a surprise Polk weed plant growing in my back yard, does it have any beneficial uses,and if not, how best to eradicate it. Thank you.

ANSWER:

Phytolacca americana (American pokeweed) is a very interesting plant and about this time each year we get inquiries from people about this large plant with white flowers and/or purple berries growing on their property. Native Americans used various parts of the plant to treat numerous ailments.  Although the plants are considered poisonous, their various parts (leaves, shoots, berries) are also edible if collected and prepared properly.  Here is more information from Ohio State University Extension.

There are several plants growing in my yard here in Texas.   I like them!   The birds love the berries; but, given the toxic nature of the plant—especially if you have children that come into your yard and would be attracted to the red berries—you might want to remove your plant.  They aren't an endangered species.  You want to do this before the plant is well-established.  Since you have only one plant, it shouldn't be too difficult to achieve.  If possible, dig up the entire plant with as much of the root as possible.  If you can't get the entire root out of the ground, you could paint the cut surface of the root with an herbicide (such as RoundUp) using a small foam brush.  You will want to paint the cut surface quickly after you cut down the plant because most plant cells can quickly seal themselves (a defense mechanism) and, thus, won't absorb as much herbicide.  Seal the plant in a plastic bag and dispose of it in the garbage.  Read and follow the health safety directions on the herbicide container and be careful not to get the herbicide on any plant you're interested in keeping.  More plants may show up.  Birds eat and deposit seeds.

Here's an interesting article:  Pokeweed, American (Phytolacca americana):  The Jekyll and Hyde Plant.

 

From the Image Gallery


American pokeweed
Phytolacca americana

American pokeweed
Phytolacca americana

American pokeweed
Phytolacca americana

American pokeweed
Phytolacca americana

American pokeweed
Phytolacca americana

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