American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)

Description:

Cluster of American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana).

American Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is a large semi-succulent herbaceous perennial plant growing up to 10 feet (3 meters) in height. It is native to eastern North America, the Midwest, and the Gulf Coast, with more scattered populations in the far West.

Parts of this plant are highly toxic to livestock and humans, and it is considered a major pest by farmers. Nonetheless, some parts can be used as food, medicine or poison.

The plant has a large white taproot, green or red stems, and large, simple leaves. White flowers are followed by purple to almost black berries, which are a good food source for songbirds such as Gray Catbird, Northern Cardinal, Brown Thrasher, and Northern Mockingbird.

Habitat:

Pokeweed is a common perennial native plant, found in Northern and Central N. America from the New England States to Minnesota and south to Florida and Texas, naturalized in Britain and other countries. Growing in damp rich soils in clearings, woodland margins and roadsides. Cultivation: Pokeweed is an easily grown plant, succeeding in most soils and full sun or partial shade. The stout erect stalk is tall, growing to 10 feet or more, smooth and branching, turning deep red or purple as the berries ripen and the plant matures. The root is conical, large and fleshy, covered with a thin brown bark. Leaves are about 5 inches long and 2 to 3 inches wide, simple, alternate, ovate-lanceolate, and smooth. The flowers which appear from July to September are long-stalked clusters and each has 5 whitish petals with green centers. The fruit is a rich deep purple round berry, containing a rich crimson juice. Gather young edible shoots in spring, the roots in fall, slice and dry for later use, and berries as they ripen.

Toxicity:

Toxic constituents have been identified including the alkaloid phytolaccine (and the alkaloid phytolaccotoxin), as well as a glycoprotein.[12]Pokeweed trunks demonstrating characteristic Fall coloring.

Distribution Map:

Distribution of American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) shown in Green.

Clinical signs of Toxicity:

In humans:

The eating of limited quantities of poke, perhaps of the shoots, may cause retching or vomiting after two hours or more. These signs may be followed

Close up of American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) Berries.

by dyspnea, perspiration, spasms, severe purging, prostration, tremors, watery diarrhea and vomiting (sometimes bloody) and, sometimes, convulsions. In severe poisonings, symptoms are weakness, excessive yawning, slowed breathing, fast heartbeat, dizziness, and possibly seizures, coma and death.

In horses:

 

Colic, diarrhea, respiratory failure.

In swine:

Unsteadiness, inability to rise, retching. Jerking movements of the legs. Below-normal temperature.

In cattle:

Same general signs plus a decrease in milk production.