Localities documented in Tropicos sources
Canada (North America)
United States (North America)
South Africa (Africa & Madagascar)
Note: This information is based on publications available through Tropicos and may not represent the entire distribution. Tropicos does not categorize distributions as native or non-native.
- SPECIMEN BASED RECORD. Published protolog data. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/9990002
- Anonymous. 1986. List-Based Rec., Soil Conserv. Serv., U.S.D.A. Database of the U.S.D.A., Beltsville. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1103
- Voss, E. G. 1985. Michigan Flora. Part II Dicots (Saururaceae-Cornaceae). Bull. Cranbrook Inst. Sci. 59. xix + 724. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1700
- Gleason, H. A. 1968. The Choripetalous Dicotyledoneae. vol. 2. 655 pp. In H. A. Gleason Ill. Fl. N. U.S. (ed. 3). New York Botanical Garden, New York. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1704
- Gibbs Russell, G. E., W. G. Welman, E. Reitief, K. L. Immelman, G. Germishuizen, B. J. Pienaar, M. v. Wyk & A. Nicholas. 1987. List of species of southern African plants. Mem. Bot. Surv. S. Africa 2(1–2): 1–152(pt. 1), 1–270(pt. 2). http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1371
- Long, R. W. & O. K. Lakela. 1971. Fl. Trop. Florida i–xvii, 1–962. University of Miami Press, Coral Cables. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1506
- Radford, A. E., H. E. Ahles & C. R. Bell. 1968. Man. Vasc. Fl. Carolinas i–lxi, 1–1183. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/636
- Correll, D. S. & M. C. Johnston. 1970. Man. Vasc. Pl. Texas i–xv, 1–1881. The University of Texas at Dallas, Richardson. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1493
- Small, J. K. 1933. Man. S.E. Fl. i–xxii, 1–1554. Published by the Author, New York. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1515
- Great Plains Flora Association. 1986. Fl. Great Plains i–vii, 1–1392. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/637
- Fernald, M. 1950. Manual (ed. 8) i–lxiv, 1–1632. American Book Co., New York. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1327
- Munz, P. A. & D. D. Keck. 1959. Cal. Fl. 1–1681. University of California Press, Berkeley. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1717
- Munz, P. A. 1974. Fl. S. Calif. 1–1086. University of California Press, Berkeley. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1719
- Godfrey, R. K. & J. W. Wooten. 1981. Aquatic Wetland Pl. S.E. U.S. Dicot. 933 pp. Univ. Georgia Press, Athens. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1711
- Flora of China Editorial Committee. 2003. Fl. China 5: 1–506. Science Press & Missouri Botanical Garden Press, Beijing & St. Louis. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1024907
- García-Mendoza, A. J. & J. Meave del Castillo. 2011. Divers. Florist. Oaxaca 1–351. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/100009052
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Habitat & Distribution
Flower-Visiting Insects of Pokeweed in Illinois
(Short-tongued bees collect pollen or nectar; other insects suck nectar; most observations are from Robertson, otherwise they are from Moure & Hurd as indicated below)
Apidae (Apinae): Apis mellifera sn
Halictidae (Halictinae): Agapostemon splendens (MH), Halictus confusus sn, Halictus ligatus sn, Lasioglossum imitatus sn cp fq, Lasioglossum versatus sn cp fq, Lasioglossum zephyrus sn
Vespidae: Polistes fuscata sn; Pompilidae: Entypus fulvicornis sn
Syrphidae: Syritta pipiens sn fq, Toxomerus geminatus sn; Empidae: Empis clausa sn; Tachinidae: Archytas analis sn
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Phytolacca americana
No available public DNA sequences.
Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Phytolacca americana
Public Records: 10
Specimens with Barcodes: 13
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||84 kJ (20 kcal)|
|- Sugars||1.6 g|
|- Dietary fiber||1.5 g|
|Vitamin A equiv.||435 μg (54%)|
|- beta-carotene||5200 μg (48%)|
|- lutein and zeaxanthin||1747 μg|
|Thiamine (vit. B1)||0.07 mg (6%)|
|Riboflavin (vit. B2)||0.25 mg (21%)|
|Niacin (vit. B3)||1.1 mg (7%)|
|Vitamin B6||0.111 mg (9%)|
|Vitamin C||82 mg (99%)|
|Vitamin K||108 μg (103%)|
|Calcium||53 mg (5%)|
|Iron||1.2 mg (9%)|
|Magnesium||14 mg (4%)|
|Manganese||0.336 mg (16%)|
|Phosphorus||33 mg (5%)|
|Potassium||184 mg (4%)|
|Sodium||18 mg (1%)|
|Link to USDA Database entry|
Percentages are relative to
US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
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. It is also known as Virginia poke, American nightshade, cancer jalap, coakum, garget, inkberry, pigeon berry, pocan, pokeroot, pokeweed, pokeberry, redweed, scoke, red ink plant and chui xu shang lu (in Chinese medicine). 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.
Plant Type: Perennial herbaceous plant which can reach a height of 10 feet, but is usually four to six feet. The stem is often red as the plant matures. Upright, erect central stem early in the season. Changes to a spreading, horizontal form later in the season with the weight of the berries. Plant dies back to roots each winter. Stem has chambered pith.
Leaves: The leaves are alternate with coarse texture with moderate porosity. Leaves can reach sixteen inches in length. Each leaf is entire. Leaves are medium green and smooth with what some characterize as an unpleasant odor.
Flowers: The flowers have 5 regular parts with upright stamens and are up to 0.2 inches wide. They have white petal-like sepals without true petals, on white pedicles and peduncles in an upright or drooping raceme, which darken as the plant fruits. Blooms first appear in early summer and continue into early fall.
Fruit: A shiny dark purple berry held in racemous clusters on pink pedicels with a pink peduncle. Pedicles without berries have a distinctive rounded five part calyx. Fruits are round with a flat indented top and bottom. Immature berries are green, turning white and then blackish purple.
Root: Thick central taproot which grows deep and spreads horizontally. Rapid growth. Tan cortex, white pulp, moderate number of rootlets. Transversely cut root slices show concentric rings. No nitrogen fixation ability.
Habitat and range
Broadly distributed in fields and waste places, and usually found in edge habitats. The seeds do not require stratification and are dispersed by berry-feeding birds. Adapted to coarse or fine soils with moderate moisture, high calcium tolerance but low salinity tolerance, pH tolerance from 4.7-8. Grows well in sun or shade and readily survives fire due to its ability to resprout from the roots. In recent years the plant appears to have increased in populated places. Found in most of the United States except the Mountain States, Alaska and Hawaii.
Triterpene saponins: Phytolaccoside A,B,C,D,E,F,G (esculentoside E), phytolaccagenin, jaligonic acid, esculentic acid, 3-oxo-30-carbomethoxy-23-norolean-12-en-28-oic acid, phytolaccagenic acid, oleanolic acid.
Triterpene alcohols: alpha spinasterol, alpha spinasteryl-beta-D-glucoside, 6 palmityl-delta7-stigmasterol-delta-D-glucoside, 6 palmytityl-alpha-spinasteryl-6-D-glucoside.
Nutritional Information per 100 grams dry weight of shoots:
- Protein: 31g; Fat: 4.8g; Carbohydrate: 44g; Fibre: 0g; Ash: 20.2g;
- Minerals - Calcium: 631 mg; Phosphorus: 524 mg; Iron: 20.2 mg; Magnesium: 0 mg; Sodium: 0 mg; Potassium: 0 mg; Zinc: 0 mg;
- Vitamins - A: 62 mg; Thiamine (B1): 0.95 mg; Riboflavin (B2): 3.93 mg; Niacin: 14.3 mg; B6: 0 mg; C: 1619 mg.
Standardization: Phytolacca is not generally standardized since it is not marketed to public and various properties are being considered for standardization for different uses. For example Phytolaccoside A,B, C et al. from leaves are being considered for antiviral use and Pokeweed antiviral protein, with subtypes taken from leaves in different seasons for AIDS. Oleanolic acid would be the constituent of choice for standardizing for the purposes of cancer since it is present in an ethanol root extract and has significant anticancer properties, for several types of carcinoma as well as leukemia.
Pokeweed poisonings were common in eastern North America during the 19th century, especially from the use of tinctures as antirheumatic preparations and from ingestion of berries and roots that were mistaken for parsnip, Jerusalem artichoke, or horseradish. Deaths are currently uncommon, although there are cases of emesis and catharsis, but at least one death of a child who consumed crushed seeds in a juice has occurred.
Toxic components of the plant include saponins based on the triterepene genins phytolaccagenin, jaligonic acid, phytolaccagenic acid (phytolaccinic acid), esculentic acid, and pokeberrygenin. These include phytolaccosides A, B, D, E, and G, and phytolaccasaponins B, E, and G. Phytolaccigenin causes hemagglutination. Additional toxic constituents which have been identified include the alkaloids phytolaccine and phytolaccotoxin, as well as a glycoprotein.
Phytolacca americana is used as a folk medicine and as food, although all parts of it must be considered toxic unless, as folk recipes claim, it is "properly prepared". The root is never eaten and cannot be made edible.
The seeds are supposed to be highly toxic, yet the berries are reportedly cooked into a jelly or pie, and seeds are strained out or pass through unless bitten. Cooking is believed to inactivate toxins in the berries by some; others attribute toxicity only to the seeds within the berries.
The leaves of young plants are sometimes collected as a spring green potherb and eaten after repeated blanchings. Shoots are also blanched with several changes of water and eaten as a substitute for asparagus. They become cathartic as they advance to maturity.
The poisonous principles are found in highest concentrations in the rootstock, less in the mature leaves and stems, and least in the fruits. Green fruits are supposedly slightly more toxic. Young leaves, if collected before acquiring a red color, are said by some to be edible if boiled for 5 minutes, rinsed, and reboiled. However, it may be difficult to identify exactly when leaves have no red color whatsoever; an incorrect picking may result in a poisoning. Berries are toxic when raw but cooked juice is reportedly potable, whereas the seeds are supposed to remain toxic after cooking. Pokeberry juice is added to other juices for jelly by those who believe it can relieve the pain of arthritis. In a traditional Cherokee recipe for fried poke stalks, young stalks are harvested while still tender, peeled to remove most of the toxin, washed, then cut into pieces and fried like okra with cornmeal.
Young pokeweed leaves boiled three times to reduce the toxin, discarding the water after each boiling, results in "poke salit", or poke salad and is occasionally available commercially. Many authorities advise against eating pokeweed even after thrice boiling, as traces of the toxin may still remain. All agree pokeweed should never be eaten uncooked. The cultural significance of poke salad is referenced in the 1969 hit song "Polk Salad Annie," written and performed by Tony Joe White, and famously covered by Elvis Presley, as well as other bands such as the El Orbits of Houston, Texas. There are currently four known poke sallet festivals held annually. They are in Gainesboro, Tennessee; Blanchard, Louisiana; Harlan, Kentucky; and, Arab, Alabama.
Since pioneer times, pokeweed has been used as a folk remedy to treat many ailments. It can be applied topically or taken internally. Topical treatments have been used for acne and other ailments. Internal treatments include tonsillitis, swollen glands and weight loss. Dried berries were ingested whole as a treatment for boils, taken 1 berry per day for 7 days. Grated pokeroot was used by Native Americans as a poultice to treat inflammations and rashes of the breast. Independent researchers are investigating phytolacca's use in treating AIDS and cancer patients. We reiterate that pokeweed should be considered dangerous and possibly deadly to those with no independent, reliable knowledge of the plant.
Ingestion of poisonous parts of the plant may cause severe stomach cramping, nausea with persistent diarrhea and vomiting, sometimes bloody, slow and difficult breathing, weakness, spasms, hypertension, severe convulsions, and death. However, consuming fewer than 10 uncooked berries is generally harmless to adults. Several investigators have reported deaths in children following the ingestion of uncooked berries or pokeberry juice. Severe poisonings have been reported in adults who ingested mature pokeweed leaves and following the ingestion of tea brewed from one-half teaspoonful of powdered pokeroot.
Some pokeweeds are also grown as ornamental plants, mainly for their attractive berries; a number of cultivars have been selected for larger fruit panicles.
Pokeweeds are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Giant Leopard Moth.
Pokeweed was used by Indigenous peoples of the Americas in herbal remedies as a heart stimulant and to treat cancer, rheumatism, itching, and syphilis. It is also used in traditional Chinese medicine.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Phytolacca americana|
- "USDA GRIN taxonomy".
- Bailey, L.H.; Bailey, E.Z.; the staff of the Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium (1976). Hortus third: A concise dictionary of plants cultivated in the United States and Canada. New York: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-02-505470-7.
- Phytolacca americana - Plants For A Future database report
- PLANTS Profile for Phytolacca americana (American pokeweed) | USDA PLANTS
- Chinese Herbal Medicine, Materia Medica 3rd Edition. Bensky, Dan; Steven Clavey, Erich Stoger. Eastland Press, 2004.
- Kang SS, Woo WS (1980). "Triterpenes from the berries of Phytolacca americana". J Nat Prod 43 (4): 510–3. doi:10.1021/np50010a013.
- Barbieri L, Aron GM, Irvin JD, Stirpe F (April 1982). "Purification and partial characterization of another form of the antiviral protein from the seeds of Phytolacca americana L. (pokeweed)". Biochem. J. 203 (1): 55–9. PMC 1158192. PMID 7103950.
- HerbalGram: The Journal of the American Botanical Council.
- Lewis WH, Smith PR (December 1979). "Poke root herbal tea poisoning". JAMA 242 (25): 2759–60. doi:10.1001/jama.242.25.2759. PMID 501875.
- Tang W, Eisenbrand G. Chinese Drugs of Plant Origin: Chemistry, Pharmacology, and Use in Traditional and Modern Medicine . New York, NY: Springer-Verlag; 1992:765
- Suga Y, Maruyama Y, Kawanishi S, Shoji J (1978). "Studies on the constituents of phytolaccaceous plants. I. On the structures of phytolaccasaponin B, E and G from the roots of Phytolacca americana L.". Chem Pharm Bull 26: 520–5.
- "Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System". Retrieved 2009-12-03.
- Iowa Cooperative Extension Service publication Pm-746 "POKEWEED"
-  Harvey Wickes Felter and John Uri Lloyd 1898. King's American Dispensatory.
- Adams, Allison. "A Mess of Poke". Retrieved 2011-10-17.
- American Cancer Society. "Pokeweed".
- US 5252330 Method of controling zebra mussels with extract of Phytolacca dodecandra
- "Poke (root, berry and ink)".
- "Pokeweed". Bio.brandeis.edu. Retrieved 2013-04-04.
The varieties are not always clearly distinct. Some specimens combine the erect inflorescences of var. rigida with the long pedicels of var. americana. Such intermediate plants can be seen as far north as coastal Delaware, sometimes growing with var. americana.
Collectors of Phytolacca americana should record carefully whether the inflorescences are erect, drooping, or intermediate between the extremes.
The fruits and seeds of Phytolacca americana are eaten and disseminated by birds and, probably, mammals. They are said to be an important source of food for mourning doves (A. C. Martin et al. 1951).
Phytolacca americana is well known to herbalists, cell biologists, and toxicologists. According to some accounts, its young leaves, after being boiled in two waters (the first being discarded) to deactivate toxins, are edible, even being available canned (they pose no culinary threat to spinach). Young shoots are eaten as a substitute for asparagus. Ripe berries were used to color wine and are eaten (cooked) in pies. Poke is used as an emetic, a purgative, a suppurative, a spring tonic, and a treatment for various skin maladies, especially hemorrhoids.
Pokeweed mitogen is a mixture of glycoprotein lectins that are powerful immune stimulants, promoting T- and B-lymphocyte proliferation and increased immun-oglobulin levels. "Accidental exposure to juices from Phytolacca americana via ingestion, breaks in the skin, and the conjunctiva has brought about hematological changes in numerous people, including researchers studying this species" (G. K. Rogers 1985). Poke antiviral proteins are of great interest for their broad, potent antiviral (including Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and antifungal properties (P. Wang et al. 1998). Saponins found in P. americana and P. dodecandra are lethal to the molluscan intermediate host of schistosomiasis (J. M. Pezzuto et al. 1984). The toxic compounds in P. americana are phytolaccatoxin and related triterpene saponins, the alkaloid phytolaccin, various histamines, and oxalic acid. When ingested, the roots, leaves, and fruits may poison animals, including Homo sapiens. Symptoms of poke poisoning include sweating, burning of the mouth and throat, severe gastritis, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, blurred vision, elevated white-blood-cell counts, unconsciousness, and, rarely, death.
"Poke" is thought to come from "pocan" or "puccoon," probably from the Algonquin term for a plant that contains dye.
To request an improvement, please leave a comment on the page. Thank you!