Photo of pokeweed plant with dangling stalks of ripe and unripe berries.
Ripe pokeweed berries are juicy and attractive, but do not eat them. All parts of pokeweed should be considered toxic.
Wendy VanDyk Evans, Bugwood.org
Skin irritating
Other Common Name
Poke; Poke Salat

Phytolaccaceae (pokeweeds)


Pokeweed is a tall, smooth, branching perennial with red stems and juicy, dark purple berries. Stems smooth, often reddish- or purplish-tinged. Flowers in terminal and lateral racemes, minute, somewhat bell-shaped, with 5 greenish-white sepals suffused with pink. There are no petals, 10 protruding stamens, and 1 pistil with 10 carpels (chambers) in a ring, each carpel having its own style. Blooms May–October. Leaves many, alternate, smooth, oblong-lanceolate, to 1 foot long, on petioles. Fruit elongated clusters dark purple, juicy berries containing 10 oval black seeds.


Height: to 10 feet.


Photo of a pokeweed plant showing red stems and branching growth habit.
Pokeweed Plant
Pokeweed is a weedy perennial common in disturbed soils and waste places, including, farmyards, fencerows, fields, and rights-of-way.


Photo of a pokeweed plant showing reddish stems and foliage.
Pokeweed Stems and Foliage
The smooth, sturdy, erect reddish or purplish stems of pokeweed make it an attractive and memorable plant.


Photo of a young pokeweed plant showing leaves with no reddish tinge.
Young Pokeweed Plant
If you want to eat pokeweed, use only very young plants, and make sure you understand how to cook them correctly.


Photo of pokeweed flower stalk showing details of flower structure.
Pokeweed Flowers
If you look closely at these pokeweed flowers, you can see the green pistil in the center of the flower, which will become the berry.


Photo of a mature berry of a pokeweed plant, showing several individual carpels.
Pokeweed (Mature Berry)
Each pokeweed berry is an enlarged pistil or ovary that is made up of 8–10 (usually 10) carpels (a type of seed chamber), each with its own seed.
Habitat and conservation

Common in disturbed soils and waste places, farmyards, fencerows, fields, and rights-of-way, and banks of waterways, ponds, lakes, bases and ledges of bluffs, and edges of bottomland and moist upland forests. Its handsome smooth, purple-tinged stems, stout taproot, and long-lasting fertility of the seeds make this a familiar, hardy weed. It is native to the eastern United States but has been introduced west to California and Oregon and to the Old World.

image Pokeweed Poke distribution map
Distribution in Missouri



The toxins in pokeweed are not completely understood. All parts should be considered poisonous to people and livestock. Cooking reduces the toxicity. Some people develop a rash after handling the plants. This is the only member of the pokeweed family in Missouri. Botanists, using gene sequencing data, are debating how big the pokeweed family is. It could contain between 30 and 120 species worldwide. Regardless, most pokeweed species live in tropical and subtropical regions of the New World.

Human connections

All parts are toxic, but young shoots and leaves, after thorough cooking in at least 2 waters, are eaten by many in a dish traditionally called poke salat. This this plant is both toxic and edible. The berries have been used for food coloring, ink, and dye. Scientists are studying the plant for possible antiviral and antitumor medicine.

Ecosystem connections

The berries are eaten by birds, which seem to be immune to the toxins in the fruits, and other animals. Birds disperse the seeds, which can survive in the soil for more than 40 years. Pokeweed is an aggressive and efficient colonizer of disturbed sites.