American Pokeweed: Bane or Beauty?
There’s an American Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) growing across the alley from our house. It emerged from an overgrown hedge this year that our new neighbors have cut to the ground.
Pokeweed is usually thought of as an aggressive, poisonous weed. The roots, stems, and seeds are particularly toxic. The leaves and berries are also poisonous, but less so. Nevertheless, some people eat the young green leaves and have even made pies from the berries.
Many birds love American Pokeweed fruit, so you could argue that it’s a good wildlife plant. Some 30 species eat the purple berries that ripen in fall, including bluebirds, robins, mockingbirds, cedar waxwings, flickers, red-bellied woodpeckers, catbirds, cardinals, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and white-throated sparrows.
Those birds spread the seeds far and wide, which is why I’ve been seeing Pokeweed seedlings emerging lately in our own garden. The seedlings are not difficult to remove if you get them while they are small, but I wouldn’t handle them without gloves.
What I didn’t realize until just recently is that some people consider Pokeweed to be a garden-worthy ornamental. In fact, there are even Pokeweed cultivars. This I learned from the very entertaining and informative garden blog, Sorta Like Suburbia.
Here’s a picture that Frank (author of Sorta Like) posted of a Pokeweed variety called ‘Sunny-Side Up’. I’ve got to admit that those golden leaves are downright stunning combined with the purple berries.
So I’ve thought about allowing one or two seedlings to take root and grow in our back garden. Only thing is, the straight species can look pretty awkward, with a downright gangly habit.
Actually, I thought about approaching the neighbors with the suggestion that they cut their Pokeweed to the ground, but I decided not to be a buttinsky. On the other hand, Frank relates how he successfully mollified one concerned neighbor with a free beer – maybe I would get the same reward.
If you’re interested in purchasing American Pokeweed, Plant Delights Nursery has 2 varieties for sale, including ‘Sunny-Side Up’. However, I think that I will hold off, at least for now. Judy is not a big fan of the idea.
Have you ever grown (deliberately) Pokeweed in your garden? If not, would you consider it?