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Phytolacca americana (American pokeweed)
Marcus, Joseph A.

Phytolacca americana

Phytolacca americana L.

American Pokeweed, Great Pokeweed, Pokeweed, Pokeberry, Red Ink Plant, Pigeonberry

Phytolaccaceae (Pokeweed Family)


USDA Symbol: PHAM4

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

A tall, large-leaved, branching plant with reddish stems and long clusters of small, white flowers.

This is frequently a troublesome weed with poisonous berries and roots, although emerging shoots can be gathered before the pink color appears, cooked, and eaten as greens. The berry juice was used as a dye by the early colonists and to improve cheap wine.


From the Image Gallery

48 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Herb
Fruit Type: Berry
Size Notes: Up to about 20 feet tall, often much shorter.
Leaf: Green
Fruit: Purple

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White , Pink , Purple
Bloom Time: Jan , Feb , Mar , Apr , May , Jun , Jul , Aug , Sep , Oct , Nov , Dec
Bloom Notes: Flowers summer-fall in northern part of range, may flower year-round in southern part of range.


USA: AL , AR , AZ , CA , CT , DC , DE , FL , GA , IA , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MS , NC , NE , NH , NJ , NY , OH , OK , OR , PA , RI , SC , TN , TX , VA , VT , WI , WV
Canada: NB , ON , QC
Native Distribution: Ontario to southern Quebec, New England, and New York; south to Florida; west to Texas and Mexico; north to Minnesota.
Native Habitat: Open woods, damp thickets, clearings, roadsides.

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
CaCO3 Tolerance: High
Conditions Comments: Pokeweed has a perennial root stock, and also reseeds. It proliferates in disturbed areas,and though it can be used as a dye and some say the young leaves can be used as a salad, the entire plant is considered poisonous and is potentially lethal. Extreme caution should be taken when using it as a food.


Use Food: EDIBLE PARTS: Young tender leaves eaten only as thoroughly cooked greens (in two waters). Cooked berries are safe for making pies. Berries, roots and mature plants are poisonous, therefore, only use as new, young growth. Do not cut below ground level to avoid using parts of poisonous roots. Any red-tinged material should be discarded.

PREPARATION: Wash young shoots thoroughly. Peel and parboil tender young shoots (less than eight inches) in two changes of water several minutes each. Boil in a third water until tender and serve like asparagus. Young stalks less than one foot tall, with leaves removed, and before red tinged, can be cut and rolled in corn meal and fried like okra. They can also be pickled. Young leaves taken from stalks less than one foot tall can be parboiled in two changes of water for several minutes each and boiled in a third water until tender. To freeze, parboil leaves twice, cook, pat dry and place them in plastic bags. (Poisonous Plants of N.C.)

The berry juice was used as a dye by the early colonists and to improve cheap wine. (Niering)
Warning: POISONOUS PARTS: All parts, mainly the roots; shoots, leaves, and berries when fresh and in quantity. Highly toxic, may be fatal if eaten. Toxic Principle: Phytolaccatoxin and related triterpene saponins, an alkaloid (phytolaccin), and histamines. Medicinal: Amerindians used berry tea for rheumatism, arthritis, dysentery; poulticed berries on sore breasts, root poulticed for rheumatism, neuralgic pains, bruises; wash used for sprains, swellings; leaf preparations once used as an expectorant. (Weiner) Emetic and cathartic, poulticed for bleeding, pimples and black heads, juice may cause dermatitis. (Foster & Duke)
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Attracts: Birds
Deer Resistant: High

Find Seed or Plants

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Mr. Smarty Plants says

Plant Identification
September 24, 2008
I have a single stem red vine with purple berries growing on it. It is in a cluster of bushes and gets mostly morning and early afternoon sun. The berries also have small bumps at the stem. I have ...
view the full question and answer

National Wetland Indicator Status

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - Austin, TX
Pineywoods Native Plant Center - Nacogdoches, TX


Bibref 1207 - Earth Medicine, Earth Food (1990) Michael A. Weiner
Bibref 417 - Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America (2000) Foster, S. & J. A. Duke
Bibref 1294 - The Midwestern Native Garden: Native Alternatives to Nonnative Flowers and Plants An Illustrated Guide (2011) Adelman, Charlotte and Schwartz, Bernard L.

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Web Reference

Webref 38 - Flora of North America (2019) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
Webref 23 - Southwest Environmental Information Network (2009) SEINet - Arizona Chapter

From the Archive

Wildflower Newsletter 1992 VOL. 9, NO.6 - Architectural Plans for new Facility Taking Shape, Native Plants Provide Local C...

Additional resources

USDA: Find Phytolacca americana in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Phytolacca americana in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Phytolacca americana


Record Modified: 2022-10-20
Research By: NPC

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