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When Good Advice Goes Unheeded…

November 12, 2009

Sometime during the summer, I found a little plant growing outside the veggie garden. I didn’t know what it was, but I had sown several types of seeds along that strip of ground. I let it grow, so that I could see what it would become. It grew vigorously, a sign of good health and happiness. Nothing came of the other seeds, so I enjoyed watching this plant grow. Eventually, it was identified for me as pokeweed, a noxious weed that I should hastily remove. Well, I didn’t. It was one little plant. Instead, I looked it up. It is poisonous, but it is growing in a location that is difficult to get to. My garden fairy is highly unlikely to get to it.

I let the pokeweed live for a couple of reasons. The large plant would give me a good quantity of material to compost at the end of the season. Eventually, it would produce many dark purple berries. While they are poisonous, the berries were once used to make ink. I thought this would make for interesting fiber dying experiments.

With the season drawing to a close, I begin to understand the arguments against this seemingly interesting and useful plant. I harvested all the berries for my dye projects. I cut the stems into pieces and added them to the compost heap. Then, I tried to pull out the roots. Imagine my surprise at finding this:

pokeweed root

Oh my gosh! In just one short little season, this pretty little plant produced this underground monstrosity. No little clump of roots here. This was all from one plant, growing down over four feet. The largest bit is bigger than my arm. Lest you think that is the worst of it, there is another piece that I was unable to remove. That piece was growing out from the tap root horizontally, straight into my vegetable garden. I have this sneaking suspicion that letting this plant live, even for a little while, is going to come back to haunt me. Just look at all the baby monsters that were waiting to spring up from this root next spring.

pokeweed root

I’m tempted to stick it in the ground in the way back, but I’ve resisted, so far anyway. I mean really, it could produce enormous amounts of greens for the compost heap in a very short time, in a tiny, unused piece of the property. That wouldn’t be so bad, would it?

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Jean Potuchek permalink
    November 12, 2009 12:56 pm

    I first made the acquaintance of pokeweed when I was gardening in southeastern Connecticut over 30 years ago. I was thinking maybe it was a local native and they should make it the Connecticut state weed, but then I looked it up in my Audubon Guide to North American Wildflowers and was surprised to find that this genus of plants is considered tropical (although this particular species can grow almost anywhere in North America, from Quebec south to Florida and west to Texas and Mexico!) -Jean

  2. November 12, 2009 1:05 pm

    We call it poke salad here. I let it go, as I think it is kind of pretty. People eat it, after boiling it twice and draining, rinsing it in between boilings. My Dad said they ate a lot of it during the depression. When I would have it come to my garden, he would always harvest it for me.

    You are right that it would make a lot of compost-able materials. I do that with 4 o’clocks. They are so abundant that I do use them for compost greens.

  3. November 12, 2009 2:38 pm

    Oh my goodness! I would be so surprised too!

  4. November 12, 2009 9:11 pm

    Beware of what grows underground. That pokeweed came to stay. I’ve never encountered it, but I would be surprised to find that extensive a root system in only one season.

  5. November 12, 2009 10:09 pm

    Oh No! I bought a very pretty variegated poke weed at the end of the season and planted it in my Kitchen Garden. At least it is in a raised bed, so will be a tiny bit easier to dig up!

  6. November 13, 2009 9:47 am

    Fortunate that you gathered the berries, else the birds might have feasted and left little purple splats all over your driveway! That’s another unlovely feature of this weed.

  7. November 13, 2009 8:50 pm

    Kate,
    Yep Pokeweed is a bear of a plant. We had a new septic field put in and it came in everywhere they dug. The birds love the berries, I have been at bird banding sites when they were catching Catbirds, the catbirds puked purple pokeberry juice on all the banders for several weeks. BTW this is Randy from Meg and Randy’s Paradise

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