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Know Your Native Plants: Pokeweed

Mario Villarino

Submitted By Dr. Mario Villarino, Hopkins County Extension Agent, Ag., N.R.

A common native plant setting berries this time of the year is the pokeweed.

According to Penn State Extension:

the common pokeweed (Phytolacca decandra) is an herbaceous perennial plant that can grow up to 9 feet tall. Mature plants resemble shrubs or young trees. However, the stems are not woody. Pokeweed reproduces from seeds.

New leaves and roots, along with the berries, should not be eaten because they are toxic; having said that, years ago parts of the plant were used for medicinal use.

The seedlings have alternate leaves that are reddish on the underside. The new shoots that emerge each year from the taproot resemble seedlings, but are thicker and clustered together before extending laterally. A pokeweed taproot can be over a foot long and 4 inches thick. Stems of mature plants are reddish.

Pokeweed produces flowers from July into early fall. The small white flowers grow on reddish-stemmed racemes (clusters of lowers grown on short pedicels). The racemes are erect or droop. The fruit are green at first and turn purple to almost black as they mature. They are very noticeable and contain a lot of red juice. Numerous birds use the fruit as a food source.

Common pokeweed — Photo By Tim Abbey

Pokeweed can be a weed in landscape beds and nurseries. First-year plants can be hand removed, particularly early in the growing season.

Due to the size of the taproot, it can be difficult to eradicate once it becomes established. A non-chemical method would be to cut the plant a number of times each growing season until it exhausts the energy stored in the taproot. A systemic herbicide, such as glyphosate or 2, 4-D, can be applied to the foliage in late summer. It will be taken down into the root.

A more targeted approach would be to cut the plant near the ground and apply undiluted herbicide to the wound. The herbicide has a shorter trip into the taproot. Remember to always read the label for specific application sites, precautions and mix rates.

For more information on this or any other agricultural topic please contact the Hopkins County Extension Office at 903-885-3443 or email me at [email protected]

Author: Faith Huffman

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