Pokeberry on the Trail


Wikepedia gives us some valuable information on this beautiful weed that we trampled through today. All of the horses came home covered in the purple juice from the berry prompting us to research this unique plant. The plants juice has multiple uses including being a paint for the Indians to decorate their horses or as ink to write letters in the 1800’s.

The pokeweeds, also known as poke, pokebush, pokeberry, pokeroot, polk salad, polk sallet, inkberry or ombú, comprise the genus Phytolacca, perennial plants native to North America, South America, East Asia and New Zealand. Pokeweed contains phytolaccatoxin and phytolaccigenin, which are poisonous to mammals. However, the berries are eaten by birds, which are not affected by the toxin because the small seeds with incredibly hard outer shells remain intact in the digestive system and are eliminated whole.

Pokeweeds are herbs growing from 1 to 10 ft. tall. They have single alternate leaves, pointed at the end, with crinkled edges. The stems are often pink or red. The flowers are greenish-white, in long clusters at the ends of the stems. They develop into dark purple berries.

Phytolacca dioica, the ombú, grows as a tree on the pampas of South America and is one of the few providers of shade on the open grassland. It is a symbol of Argentina and gaucho culture.