Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hello, Mr. Weed!

There are weeds, and then there are WEEDS. The pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), which grows in sunnier spots in our woods, is the latter... a lusty, spectacular weed with a presence. It's four foot tall, with red stems, and the berries (which are poisonous), start out looking like small green tomatoes, turning deep purple as they ripen, then drop off to reveal flamingo pink stems. I don't know why it doesn't get a little horticultural love... maybe if it was called rainbowberry instead of pokeweed, it would get a little respect. Posted by Picasa

I did see a solid stand of pokeweed in a place of distinction at a garden I toured this year. The owner had given them about a 4' area to take over, and they were suitably impressive.
I love this plant.

I've usually seen it growing against fences and other nooks, so it leans out and looks, well, weedy. In my previous garden, it was growing in the open at the edge of a gravel path. There, in full sun, and where it could spread its arms, it took on a beautiful umbrella/fountain form and exceeded six feet in height.

The berries, which persist into winter, are popular with birds. Catbirds, in particular, one of my favorite native birds, love the berries. It's worth growing somewhere for the wildlife value.

And during my last winter in the previous garden, when we had some snow on the ground, the berries froze, burst, and thawed, giving up their juices. The snow was stained brilliant magenta for days. It was a beautiful sight, and one I could never have planned.

On the down side, it really does seed itself, so I have to be vigilant and remove it from wherever I don't want it, or don't have room for it. I have some in the new garden, and I'm letting some of them grow and go to seed.
Jenn... I'm thinking about gathering some berries and starting a patch in the garden, but they take up an awful lot of space.

xris... I'd like to see one six foot tall... the one in my picture is about five... it's crowded by some other stuff. I wonder how the catbirds can eat the berries, if they are truly poisonous... guess they are tough!
I've seen it grown in British gardens, where it appears to be better appreciated than it is on this side of the ocean. Perhaps it isn't as prolific over there. The tap roots are so long, I find it almost uncontrollable.
gardner... it IS quite a pest, really, but at least a pretty one.
Don, I have a ton of this in my yard in the summer, and was just about to line up a Green Thumb Sunday post for tomorrow that will feature some of the berries from this particular fella...I ran a Google search on "yard weed Iowa green and purple berries" and you turned right up! Thanks for helping me with identification, neighbor!
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