Pokeweed (or Pokeberry): Exotic, pretty, resilient and out of control

Pokeberry or Pokeweed in a UK Garden

Pokeberry or Pokeweed in a UK Garden

In the first year you live in a house with a garden, everything that shows up is a surprise. In late spring, in a part of the garden that’s completely in the shade (thanks to a gigantic pine tree), some leaves started bursting up; they were a sort of reddish colour at first but then green.

Honesty, this plant grew so quickly I felt I could almost see it spreading. In no time there was a mass of leaves and some rather peculiar flower. I’d never seen anything like it – if anything it looked more weird than the photos. The central flower stem started off covered in green flowers that were pink in the centre. These gradually changed into really shiny seeds, that started off pink and gradually changed to an almost-black purple. It looked a bit Space-Agey, or like something out of Chorlton and the Wheelies.

The next year, it had spread about 30 feet along the shaded area, and had produced about 15 of the large flower heads. It had also cropped up in other locations, including a patch about 80 feet away. All in the shade.

Intrigued, I posted a picture on a gardening forum. An American reader point out that it was pokeweed, or pokeberry. I couldn’t see pictures that looked exactly like my plant, but there was a definite resemblance to other plants in the Phytolaccaceae family.

I told an American friend I had pokeweed in my garden and she mentioned something that caused me to drop everything and get digging. ‘It forms a really deep and invasive tap root. I’ve just burnt a pile of it.’ With the word ‘tap root’ ringing in my head, I went out and started digging – in fact I dug until my palms bled.

Amy (said friend) wasn’t wrong. The roots were deep…huge, in fact – one was the size of a baby! And they’d spread everywhere

I think I dug them all out but really – I’ll find out for definite next year.

I’m sad though…I actually thought it looked nice (this is how Japanese knotweed spread throughout the country, isn’t it?). I’m not sad enough to carry on digging it out of the garden when I see it (seedlings are still forming – the seeds, though poisonous, are tempting to birds and the plant spreads that way, too).

Have you had any encounters with this strange plant? I’m in Kent, the hottest county in the mainland UK, and would be interested to know where this came from. Do you know what genus it is?

Nettie

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