Where the American pokeweed thrives, curious glimpses over the garden fence are common. The perennial captivates the viewer at the latest when the blue-black berries form from the upright or hanging inflorescences. The herbaceous plant is a rarity in the garden. This may be due to their slight poison content or vehement urge to spread. In return, a pokeweed has beneficial attributes that amaze even experienced gardeners. Explore all relevant information about location and maintenance here. The options for their use have some surprises to hold.
Profile of American pokeweed:
Scientific name: Phytolacca americana
Plant family: pokeweed family (Phytolaccaceae)
Other names: pokeweed, poke sallet, poke salad
Sowing time: early spring, but needs cold to germ
Planting time: spring or autumn
Flowering period: June to September
Location: sunny to partially shaded
Soil quality: sandy to loamy, fresh to moist, nutrient-rich, humus-rich
These information are for temperate climate!
Use in: single planting, group planting, borders, nature garden
Winter hardiness: somewhat hardy
Plant characteristics and classification of American pokeweed
Origin and occurrence of American pokeweed
The American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), also called pokeweed, is native to North America, where it can be found from Québec via New York and Florida to Mexico. The perennial from the pokeweed family (Phytolaccaceae) thrives especially in moist thickets, in clearings and on the side of roads. In the meantime, like the Indian pokeweed (Phytolacca acinosa), it has also become naturalized in Europe. In some regions, including forest areas in Europe, pokeweed is now considered an invasive neophyte. By releasing toxins through its roots, other native plants can be displaced. Nevertheless, the North American plant has a high ornamental value and is therefore often cultivated in gardens.
Plant order of American pokeweed
American pokeweed belongs to the pokeweed family (Phytolaccaceae). The genus Phytolacca includes 35 species.
Characteristics of American pokeweed
Phytolacca americana is a perennial that grows to a height of 100 to 250 centimeters (25 to 100 in) and forms a taproot. Caution: It has already happened that their meaty roots have been confused with those of horseradish (Armoracia rusticana). However, the roots of the American pokeweed – like the seeds – are poisonous! Another characteristic of the perennial is its somewhat unpleasant smell.
The alternate leaves of the pokeweed appear oblong to ovate-lanceolate and are up to 30 centimeters (12 in) long. The stems are reddish.
From June to September, the impressive, white or reddish flowers of the pokeweed appear. The hermaphrodite flowers usually include ten stamens and ten overgrown fruit leaves. The grape-like inflorescence reach a proud length between 20 and 40 centimeters (8 and 16 in). In contrast to the Indian pokeweed, the inflorescence are not upright, but hanging bent.
The ten-part fruits of the American pokeweed develop in autumn – hence probably the name ten-man pokeweed. The berries initially glow red and turn black in the course of autumn. Attention: At first glance, the berries are reminiscent of blackberries, but they are poisonous and inedible for us humans. Since the deep red berry juice has a strong color, it was previously used to color confectionery and wine – but this is no longer permitted. Birds, on the other hand, have no problems with the berries: by eating the fruits and excreting them, they ensure the spread of the seeds.
American pokeweed – cultivation and care
The pokeweed is quite undemanding when it comes to its location. It thrives in both the sun and half-shade. Ideally, the place is somewhat protected. The North American perennial is also slightly more sensitive to frost than its Asian relatives and prefers a warm place in the garden.
Phytolacca americana feels most comfortable in a well-drained, sandy-loamy substrate that is as humus and nutrient-rich as possible. The pH is best between neutral and slightly acidic. Avoid waterlogging – apart from that a fresh to moist floor is recommended.
In principle, American pokeweed can be propagated by sowing or root cuttings. Often, however, the pokeweed has to be stopped in its urge to spread. For sowing, the seeds are harvested in autumn and dried over winter. Since the pokeweed is a cold germ, the seeds first need a cold stimulus to be able to germinate.
The best time to plant the perennial is spring or autumn. If you want to put the pokeweed in the garden again, you should keep a planting distance of at least 60 centimeters (24 in) – better 80 centimeters (32 in). The growth of Phytolacca americana should not be underestimated: since the bushy plant quickly grows to a stately size, it can sometimes shade its neighbors hungry for sun. Excavate the planting hole so that it is twice the size of the root ball.
Since pokeweed forms fleshy, little branched tap roots, a division as a method of propagation is not very productive. Instead, propagation through root cuttings is recommended. These are separate root pieces that are cultivated like cuttings in soil.
The water requirement of the pokeweed is particularly high in dry summer months. Make sure that the soil is always kept moist. Tempered water from the rain barrel or the cistern is ideal for pouring.
During the growing season, it is also advisable to fertilize the pokeweed every three to four weeks with some compost or horn shavings.
Care / Pruning
A cut of Phytolacca americana is usually not necessary. You can prevent the ornamental plant from multiplying by self-sowing by cutting off the inflorescence after they have faded. If you want to completely remove the plant from your garden, the entire taproot must be excavated completely. In order to avoid skin irritation, it is better to wear gloves during all care measures.
Diseases and pests
American pokeweed is a very robust, wide-spreading perennial with hardly any plant diseases or pests. Even with snails, the plant has no problems – on the contrary: the poisonous parts of the plants, especially the seeds and roots of the pokeweed, keep the pests at a distance and are even used as a natural control agent.
The pokeweed is a perennial plant that withstands the winter in mild locations without damage. While the American pokeweed perennial can be somewhat sensitive to severe frosts, the Indian form is somewhat more resistant. When the first cold days in November announce the beginning of winter, the fruit stands dry up, the plant withers and dries up. The beet-like taproot usually survives the winter months without problems and sprouts again in spring. For protection, you should cut the plant close to the ground in autumn after the leaves have withered and cover it with some brushwood, straw or dry leaves.
To be on the safe side in order to enjoy American pokeweed again next year, collect some berries in the fall, take the seeds from them and multiply the plant by sowing.
Use in the garden
The pokeweed is best used alone or in small groups. The ornamental plant also cuts a fine figure in combination with other leafy ornamental plants or on the edge of trees. The fruits serve as food for numerous birds in autumn and winter. With regard to its toxicity, it is better not to plant the pokeweed where children play nearby. The red dye in the berries is similar to that of the beetroot and was formerly used, among other things, to dye red wine or textiles. The plant was also used as an emetic and laxative in her home country.
I have some Pokeweed that is drying. I wonder if it would be safe to use those stems and branches (without the leaves) to put small battery operated lights on for the Holidays? Do any of the poisons persist in the dried stems without leaves?
The roots and the seeds are poisonous. The stems should therefor be safe. But I also do not recommend eating those.