By B. Rosie Lerner
I have a lot of these plants (pictured at right) growing in the field near my home. Can you identify this plant for me? And is it poisonous? I have horses and am concerned that this could make them sick.
This is a very common weed called pokeweed. It is native to much of Eastern North America, including Indiana. All parts of the pokeweed plant are poisonous, especially roots and seeds, but its toxicity is generally considered to be low. (According to the U.S. Forest Service, young leaves and stems when properly cooked are edible and provide a good source of protein, fat and carbohydrate. Regional names for the plant include poke, poke sallet, poke salad, and pokeberry.)
Pokeweed can reach up to 10 feet tall and has distinctly red stems and berries that change from green to dark purple when ripe. It is perennial from a large tap root, dying back to the ground each year. The fruits are important food for mockingbirds, northern cardinals and mourning doves which spread the seed everywhere in their droppings. So, pokeweed can poke up in many new places each year.
For more information on pokeweed and its toxicity, see Purdue Extension’s Guide to Toxic Plants in Forages. www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/ws/ws_37_toxicplants08.pdf
B. ROSIE LERNER is a retired Purdue Extension consumer horticulturist and is a consumer of Tipmont REMC.
B. Rosie Lerner has spent her career making Indiana a more beautiful and bountiful state when it comes to flower and vegetable gardens. After 36 years, Rosie retired as the Purdue Extension consumer horticulture specialist at the end of 2020.
In her role, she served two stints as the Purdue Master Gardener state coordinator; developed programs, publications, news releases and teaching materials for home gardeners; served as the horticulture liaison to the Purdue Plant & Pest Diagnostic Laboratory; and was a member of various related boards and professional organizations.
And while she has retired from Purdue, she has graciously offered to continue answering gardening questions for Indiana Connection readers. So, those with questions may continue asking them through the handy online “Talk to Us” form at www.indianaconnection.org/talk-to-us/ask-rosie that allows you to upload photos, too; or mailing them to: “Ask Rosie,” Indiana Connection, 8888 Keystone Crossing, Suite 1600, Indianapolis, IN 46240.