Phytolacca americana, commonly known as pokeweed, common poke or scoke, is a vigorous, herbaceous perennial that typically grows to 4-10’ tall with a spread to 3-5’ wide. This plant features (a) showy reddish-purple stems, (b) large, alternate, lanceolate green leaves (each 5-10” long spreading to 2-4” wide), (c) apetalous, bisexual, summer flowers (to 3/4” wide) which bloom July to September in slender racemes to 8” long, each flower composed of five showy petal-like greenish-white sepals, 10 stamens and a pistil composed of united carpels, (d) grape-like fruits (each to 1/ 4” across) which emerge green but mature to a deep reddish-purple, and (e) very large taproots which will grow to 12” long and 4” thick. Pokeweed is native to clearings, fields, pastures, open woods, thickets and roadsides in eastern North America from Quebec, Ontario and Minnesota south to Florida, Texas and northern Mexico. Pokeweed is poisonous. All parts of the plant are toxic. The young stems and leaves can be eaten but only after they are properly cooked. It is a traditional Appalachian vegetable. The young shoots have to be boiled in water 2 or 3 times and the water has to be replaced each time. The common name of poke is a contraction of puccoon or pocan or poughkone (from an Algonquin Indian name for this plant). The berries have been used to make a red ink and a pink dye, hence the sometimes used common name of inkberry and red-ink plant. An additional common name for this plant is poke sallet (local term meaning salad). The extract from the berries is poisonous. Pokeweed is grown as an ornamental plant for its large leaves, colorful stems and abundant clusters of fruits. Birds eat the fruits.
- Soak the seeds in water for several hours.
- Put a mixture of potting soil and sand or perlite into a pot with drainage holes in the base. The soil should be moist and well-drained.
- Sow the seeds on the soil.
- Water the seeds. Keep the soil moist but not wet.
- When the plants are a few inches tall, they can be transplanted.