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Identifying Pokeweeds and Pokeweed Look-Alikes: A Quick Guide

Identifying Pokeweeds and Pokeweed Look-Alikes

Whether you are a farmer, gardener, or homeowner, pokeweeds are the last thing you want to spot. These unwelcome visitors deprive surrounding plants of nutrients. 

If you have yet to develop a keen eye for spotting pokeweed, there’s a chance you may get played by a look-alike.

Feel like that last sentence was speaking to you? You’re probably right – read on as we take you through some of the most common pokeweed doppelgangers.

What is pokeweed?

Image: Pixabay

Pokeweed is a herbaceous perennial shrub indigenous to North America and naturalized in Europe and Asia. It is commonly found in disturbed soils, forest openings, waste areas, roadsides, fields, and pastures.  

Here is a summary of the pokeweed’s characteristics:

Scientific NamePhytolacca americana
Common NameAmerican Pokeweed
Common Pokeweed
Pidgeon Berry
Height4 to 10 feet
12 inches long
2 to 6 inches wide
BarkBurgundy Red
2 inches in diameter
FlowersWhite or Green
Raceme Inflorescence
4 to 5 petals
FruitsBlack, Green or Purple
Drooping clusters of fruits

Pokeweed is easily identified by its thick fleshy burgundy red stems and branches. It usually grows from 4 to 10 feet high.

During the summer, pokeweed blooms a raceme inflorescence of tiny white flowers. These flowers later turn into drooping clusters of glossy black or purple berries in the fall. 

Unfortunately, all parts of the pokeweed are poisonous – so please take our word for it and wear quality gloves when dealing with them. Human contact with pokeweed causes diarrhea, vomiting, dermatitis, and blood aberrations. 

How do you get rid of pokeweed?

There are two ways to get rid of pokeweed: dig them out or spray herbicide. 

We’ve outlined some steps for you to follow for each of these methods. Read on below!

1. Dig the pokeweed out.

Dig the pokeweed out
DifficultyModerate ●●●○○
Duration1 to 2 hours
Things You NeedGardening gloves
Garbage bag
How To Do

1. Manually pull the pokeweed plant out. If not possible, you can dig the plant out with a shovel. 
2. Place the berries and roots in a separate garbage bag, so they will not contaminate the soil. 
3. Mix the remaining parts of the pokeweed plant, the stems, flowers, and leaves with compost to fertilize the soil.

2. Use herbicide.

Use herbicide
DifficultyEasy ●○○○○
Duration1 hour
Things You NeedGlyphosate herbicide
Protective gloves
How To Do

1. Spray the glyphosate herbicide on the pokeweed leaves until the plant fully absorbs them. 
2. Ensure that the leaves fully absorb the herbicide. The chemicals will spread through the plant and roots and dry the plant to death. 

Pokeweed Look-Alikes

Here are the three common pokeweed look-alikes you should look out for.

1. Giant Ragweed (Ambrosia trifida)

Giant Ragweed (Ambrosia trifida)
Image: Wikipedia
Scientific NameAmbrosia trifida
Common NameGiant Ragweed
Great ragweed
Tall ragweed
Texan great ragweed
Height6 to 20 feet
LeavesOpposite3 to 5 deep lobes
Slightly ridged
BranchesBranched or unbranched
FlowersTerminal racemes
Pistillate and staminate flowers Axillary clusters
AcheneTiny spines
Similarity with PokeweedYellow-green flowers
Large leaves
Grows in the same habitat

The Giant Ragweed is an annual plant native to Europe and North America. It is commonly found in disturbed soils, roadsides, pastures, and cultivated fields.

This plant reaches between 6 to 20 feet tall. It has large, oppositely arranged green foliage and blossoms with crown-shaped yellow-green flower clusters. 

Although it is non-toxic, the pollen of the Giant Ragweed triggers allergies and causes hay fever in some people. It is also an invasive and noxious weed as it competes with plants and crops for light. 

2. Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
Image: Gardener’s Path
Scientific NameSambucus nigra
Common NameBlack Elder
European Elderberry
Height10 to 20 feet
Ovate10 inches long
Corky Bumps
BranchesNo branches or stem
FlowersCream or White
Umbel Inflorescence
Musky Fragrance
FruitsGlossy black or blue fruits
Similarity with PokeweedShiny black berries or fruits

Elderberry is a small ornamental shrub native to Europe, Asia, and Africa. It is usually found on roadsides and woodlands. 

The bark of the elderberry is grayish brown and marked by furrows and grows between 10 to 20 feet tall. 

During spring, the elderberry plant produces an umbel inflorescence of creamy white flowers that turn into glossy black or blue berries.

Elderberry is easily mistaken as pokeweed whenever it bears glossy black or blue berries. 

3. Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica)

Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica)
Image: Healthline
Scientific NameReynoutria japonica
Common NameAsiatic Knotweed
Donkey Rhubarb
Japanese Bamboo
Japanese Knotweed
Mexican Bamboo
Height10 to 13 feet
3 to 6 inches long
1 to 3 inches wide
BarkCopper or Red
Slightly ridged
FlowersCream, Green or White
Spike Inflorescence
4 to 5 petals
FruitsShiny black
Three-angled achenes
Similarity with PokeweedWhite or green flowers
Giant leaves
Grows in bushes during blooming season

The Japanese Knotweed is a perennial plant that came from Asia. This plant is invasive and aggressively propagates in large clumps.

Japanese Knotweed has a hollow reddish-brown stem with nodes. New leaves grow in a dark red hue, but later turn green; and are alternately arranged on the plant’s stem.

During late summer to early fall, the Japanese Knotweed grows in bushes and blooms small spike inflorescence of creme, white or green flowers with 4 to 5 petals.

FAQs on Pokeweed

Is pokeweed poisonous to touch?

Pokeweed is unsafe to touch because chemicals from the plant can pass through the skin and affect your blood. When handling pokeweed, it is best to use protective gloves. 

Is pokeweed poisonous to humans?

Pokeweed is poisonous to humans, especially its roots and seeds. It causes diarrhea, vomiting, dermatitis, and blood aberrations. 

Is pokeweed edible?

Pokeweed is inedible because all of its parts contain toxic chemicals. Eating its berries has caused stomach distress to many adults who have mistaken them for medicinal plants. 

How do you make pokeweed edible?

To make pokeweed edible, boil them at least twice in water to ensure their toxic components are removed. 

In some countries, they add pokeweed leaves to their salads, which are said to have a similar taste to asparagus. 

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