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Overview

Comprehensive Description

Comments

This unusual plant has a striking appearance when mature because of the bright reddish purple coloration of the stems. It is possibly a sign to migrating birds that the berries are ripe. The individual flowers are also attractive when they are viewed up-close. However, Pokeweed is usually dismissed as a mere weed, even though the berries have considerable ecological value to many songbirds. The purple juice of the berries has been used as a food coloring. Pioneers used the young leaves as a potherb and the roots for medicinal purposes, but neither of these practices can be recommended. Return
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Description

This native perennial plant is up to 8' tall, branching regularly. The stems are smooth, round, and hairless, varying from light green to brilliant purplish red. The latter color becomes more prominent as the season progresses. The rather large alternate leaves are up to 10" long and 4" across. They are broadly lanceolate or ovate, with smooth margins, and prominent veins. Their color is often light green or yellowish green, particularly in sunny locations, and they have narrow petioles about ½–1" long.
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Distribution

National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Unknown/Undetermined

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Unknown/Undetermined

Confidence: Confident

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

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America, widely naturalised in Asia and Europe.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Elevation Range

1000-1800 m
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Description

Herbs perennial, 1-2 m tall. Root obconic, thick. Stems erect, sometimes reddish purple, terete. Petiole 1-4 cm; leaf blade elliptic-ovate or ovate-lanceolate, 9-18 × 5-10 cm, base cuneate, apex acute. Racemes terminal or lateral, 5-20 cm. Pedicel 6-8 mm. Flowers ca. 6 mm in diam. Tepals 5, white, slightly red. Stamens, carpels, and styles 10; carpels connate. Infructescence pendent. Berry purple-black when mature, oblate. Seeds reniform-auricular, ca. 3 mm. Fl. Jun-Aug, fr. Aug-Oct. 2n = 18*, 36*.
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Description

Plants to 3(-7) m. Leaves: petiole 1-6 cm; blade lanceolate to ovate, to 35 × 18 cm, base rounded to cordate, apex acuminate. Racemes open, proximalmost pedicels sometimes bearing 2-few flowers, erect to drooping, 6-30 cm; peduncle to 15 cm; pedicel 3-13 mm. Flowers: sepals 5, white or greenish white to pinkish or purplish, ovate to suborbiculate, equal to subequal, 2.5-3.3 mm; stamens (9-)10(-12) in 1 whorl; carpels 6-12, connate at least in proximal 1/2; ovary 6-12-loculed. Berries purple-black, 6-11 mm diam. Seeds black, lenticular, 3 mm, shiny. 2n = 36.
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Diagnostic Description

Synonym

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat & Distribution

Cultivated. Anhui, Fujian, Guangdong, Guizhou, Hebei, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Shaanxi, Shandong, Sichuan, Taiwan, Yunnan, Zhejiang [native to North America; widely naturalized in Asia and Europe].
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Associations

Flower-Visiting Insects of Pokeweed in Illinois

Phytolacca americana (Pokeweed)
(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)

Bees (long-tongued)
Apidae (Apinae): Apis mellifera sn

Bees (short-tongued)
Halictidae (Halictinae): Agapostemon splendens (MH), Halictus confusus sn, Halictus ligatus sn, Lasioglossum imitatus sn cp fq, Lasioglossum versatus sn cp fq, Lasioglossum zephyrus sn

Wasps
Vespidae: Polistes fuscata sn; Pompilidae: Entypus fulvicornis sn

Flies
Syrphidae: Syritta pipiens sn fq, Toxomerus geminatus sn; Empidae: Empis clausa sn; Tachinidae: Archytas analis sn

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Phytolacca americana

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Phytolacca americana

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 11
Specimens with Barcodes: 15
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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Management

These species are introduced in Switzerland.
  • Aeschimann, D. & C. Heitz. 2005. Synonymie-Index der Schweizer Flora und der angrenzenden Gebiete (SISF). 2te Auflage. Documenta Floristicae Helvetiae N° 2. Genève.   http://www.crsf.ch/ External link.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Uses

Uses: MEDICINE/DRUG

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Wikipedia

Phytolacca americana

Pokeberry shoots, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy84 kJ (20 kcal)
3.1 g
Sugars1.6 g
Dietary fiber1.5 g
0.4 g
2.3 g
Vitamins
Vitamin A equiv.
(54%)
435 μg
(48%)
5200 μg
1747 μg
Thiamine (B1)
(6%)
0.07 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
(21%)
0.25 mg
Niacin (B3)
(7%)
1.1 mg
Vitamin B6
(9%)
0.111 mg
Vitamin C
(99%)
82 mg
Vitamin K
(103%)
108 μg
Trace metals
Calcium
(5%)
53 mg
Iron
(9%)
1.2 mg
Magnesium
(4%)
14 mg
Manganese
(16%)
0.336 mg
Phosphorus
(5%)
33 mg
Potassium
(4%)
184 mg
Sodium
(1%)
18 mg

Percentages are roughly approximated using 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 metres) 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,[1][2] American nightshade, cancer jalap, coakum, garget,[2] inkberry, pigeon berry,[1][2] pocan,[2] pokeroot,[1] pokeweed,[1] pokeberry,[1] redweed, scoke,[2] red ink plant and chui xu shang lu (in Chinese medicine).[1] Sometimes the plant is also referred to as poke sallet[3] (or polk salad).[4] 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 if properly prepared.

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.

Morphology[edit]

Plant Type: Perennial herbaceous plant which can reach a height of 10 feet (3 metres), but is usually 4 feet (1.2 metres) to 6 feet (2 metres). However, the plant must be a few years old before the root grows large enough to support this size. The stem is often red as the plant matures. There is an upright, erect central stem early in the season, which 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 a chambered pith.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Flowers: The flowers have 5 regular parts with upright stamens and are up to 0.2 inches (5 mm) 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[5][1]

Habitat and range[edit]

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.[1][6]

Known constituents[edit]

Various sources discuss notable chemical constituents of the plant.[1][7]

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.[8]

Triterpene alcohols: α-spinasterol, α-spinasteryl-β-D-glucoside, 6-palmityl-Δ7-stigmasterol-Δ-D-glucoside, 6-palmytityl-α-spinasteryl-6-D-glucoside.

Others: phytolaccatoxin, canthomicrol, astragalin, protein PAP-R, Pokeweed mitogen, (PMW, a series of glycoproteins), caryophyllene, lectins, tannin, starch.

Nutritional information per 100 grams dry weight of shoots:[5]

Standardization: Phytolacca is not generally standardized since it is not marketed to public and various properties are being considered for standardization for different uses.

Toxicity[edit]

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.[9] 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.[citation needed]

Toxic components of the plant include saponins based on the triterepene genins phytolaccagenin, jaligonic acid, phytolaccagenic acid (phytolaccinic acid), esculentic acid, and pokeberrygenin.[8] These include phytolaccosides A, B, D, E, and G, and phytolaccasaponins B, E, and G. Phytolaccigenin causes hemagglutination.[10][11] Additional toxic constituents which have been identified include the alkaloids phytolaccine and phytolaccotoxin, as well as a glycoprotein.[12]

The poisonous principles are found in highest concentrations in the rootstock, leaves, and stems while only small amounts are in the ripe fruits.[13] The plant is generally get more toxic with maturity with the exception of the berries which are more toxic while still green.[14]

Symptoms of poisoning from common pokeweed include a burning sensation in the mouth, salivation, gastrointestinal cramps, vomiting and bloody diarrhea. Depending upon the amount consumed more severe symptoms can occur. These include: anemia, altered heart rate and respiration, convulsions and death from respiratory failure. In most cases both people and animals recover within 1 to 2 days if only small quantities are eaten.[15]

Uses[edit]

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.[16]

Food uses[edit]

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.[17]

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" "poke salad", or "poke sallet",[18][19] 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. Poke sallet festivals are held annually in Gainesboro, Tennessee; Blanchard, Louisiana; Harlan, Kentucky and Arab, Alabama.

The juice from the berries can be used to make jelly. The berries have also been used to make pies.[20][21]

Medicinal uses[edit]

Historically pokeweed has been used as a folk remedy by Native Americans in traditional Chinese medicine as a purgative, an emetic, a heart stimulant and to treat cancer, itching, and syphilis.[citation needed] It was also used for its anti-rheumatic properties and in 1820 the US Pharmacopoeia listed this plant as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory.[22][23][1] Grated pokeroot can be used to treat inflammations and rashes of the breast.[24][unreliable source?][medical citation needed] Preliminary in vitro studies on a protein isolated from pokeweed indicate activity against HIV and and some types of cancer cells, but its effectiveness in human health has not yet been examined.[23]

Other uses[edit]

A patent has been filed to use poke toxins to control zebra mussels.[25]

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 berries can be processed to yield a red ink or dye.[26][27]

Gallery[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "USDA GRIN taxonomy". 
  2. ^ a b c d e 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. 
  3. ^ Definition of poke sallet on the Poke Sallet Fest website, Gainsboro, Tennessee. Here it is used to refer to the plant itself, although the term also refers to the cooked leaves of the plant, a traditional food in parts of the southern US.
  4. ^ Referenced in the 1968 song by Tony Joe White.
  5. ^ a b Phytolacca americana - Plants For A Future database report
  6. ^ PLANTS Profile for Phytolacca americana (American pokeweed) | USDA PLANTS
  7. ^ Chinese Herbal Medicine, Materia Medica 3rd Edition. Bensky, Dan; Steven Clavey, Erich Stoger. Eastland Press, 2004.
  8. ^ a b Kang SS, Woo WS (1980). "Triterpenes from the berries of Phytolacca americana". J Nat Prod 43 (4): 510–3. doi:10.1021/np50010a013. 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ "Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System". Retrieved 2009-12-03. 
  13. ^ Pokeweed Poisoning
  14. ^ Effects of Herbal Supplements on Clinical Laboratory Test Results
  15. ^ Ohio Perennial and Biennial Weed Guide: Common Pokeweed
  16. ^ Iowa Cooperative Extension Service publication Pm-746 "POKEWEED"
  17. ^ [1] Harvey Wickes Felter and John Uri Lloyd 1898. King's American Dispensatory.
  18. ^ Adams, Allison. "A Mess of Poke". Retrieved 2011-10-17. 
  19. ^ Definition of poke sallet on the Poke Sallet Fest website, Gainsboro, Tennessee. Here it is used to refer to the plant itself.
  20. ^ Ohio Perennial and Biennial Weed Guide: Common Pokeweed
  21. ^ Poke Berry Jelly
  22. ^ Pokeweed
  23. ^ a b American Cancer Society. "Pokeweed". 
  24. ^ Pokeweed
  25. ^ US 5252330  Method of controling zebra mussels with extract of Phytolacca dodecandra
  26. ^ "Poke (root, berry and ink)". 
  27. ^ "Pokeweed". Bio.brandeis.edu. Retrieved 2013-04-04. 
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Notes

Comments

The infraspecific taxonomy of Phytolacca americana has been disputed since J. K. Small (1905) recognized P. rigida as distinct from P. americana on the basis of its "permanently erect panicles" [sic] and "pedicels...much shorter than the diameter of the berries." J. W. Hardin (1964b) separated P. rigida from P. americana by the length of the raceme (2-12 cm in P. rigida, 5-30 cm in P. americana) and the thickness and diameter of the xylem center of the peduncle (70% greater thickness in P. rigida, 17% greater diameter in P. americana), but he found no discontinuities in any feature. J. W. Nowicke (1968) and J. D. Sauer (1952), among others, treated P. rigida as a synonym of P. americana. Most recently, D. B. Caulkins and R. Wyatt (1990) recognized P. rigida as a variety of P. americana

 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.

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Comments

This species is used medicinally.
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