Phytolacca americana (pokeweed)

Aix sponsa

Pokeweed—Phytolacca americana—is an amazing plant. It shoots up quickly in late spring, reaching heights of 10 feet or more by summer. Its flowers are beautiful, but often overlooked because they are dwarfed by the rest of the plant. However, when the berries develop where the flowers were, there is no missing them: the berries are dark purple, while the flower stalk turns bright purplish pink.

Phytolacca americana is reported as poisonous to humans by all of our sources (see list below), though there may be nontoxic parts of the plant, or ways to remove toxins in the cooking process. Birds, anyway, rely on the berries as a food source; American robins, gray catbirds, and cedar waxwings are among the species documented to eat pokeweed berries.


Pokeweed can be recognized by its large size and its distinctive flower spikes, which occur at the top of the plant and contain many small, 5-petaled, white flowers. Before it flowers, note the large, alternating leaves that lack teeth and have prominent veins—and the thick stems, which become purple as they mature. After flowering, the dark berries and contrasting purplish pink flower stalks are pretty unmistakeable. Pokeweed is often found in disturbed-ground areas (pathsides, gardens, ditches, abandoned fields, and so on).

Range of Phytolacca americana

midwestern range

Phytolacca americana
plants just beginning to flower


Phytolacca americana
young plants

Phytolacca americana

Phytolacca americana
central stem


Phytolacca americana
immature flowerhead


Phytolacca americana

Phytolacca americana

Phytolacca americana
mature plants at Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site in central Illinois

References: GN Jones 1971, Wilkinson & Jacques 1972, Kricher & Morrison 1988, RL Jones 2005, Voss & Reznicek 2012, Kurz 2014, Mohlenbrock 2014, Hilty 2017, USDA 2017.

Kuo, Michael & Melissa Kuo (August, 2017). Phytolacca americana (pokeweed). Retrieved from the midwestnaturalist.com website: www.midwestnaturalist.com/phytolacca_americana.html

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