POKEWEED SCOKE PIGEONBERRY INKBERRY GARGET
(Phytolacca decandra) Pokeweed family
Flowers - White, with a green centre, pink-tinted outside, about
1/4 in. across, in bracted racemes 2 to 8 in. long. Calyx of 4 or
5 rounded persistent sepals, simulating petals; no corolla; 10
short stamens; 10-celled ovary, green,
curved. Stem: Stout, pithy, erect, branching, reddening toward
the end of summer, 4 to 10 ft. tall, from a large, perennial,
poisonous root. Leaves: Alternate, petioled, oblong to
lance-shaped, tapering at both ends, 8 to 12 in. long. Fruit:
Very juicy, dark purplish berries, hanging in long clusters from
reddened footstalks; ripe, August-October.
Preferred Habitat - Roadsides, thickets, field borders, and waste
soil, especially in burnt-over districts.
Flowering Season - June-October.
Distribution - Maine and Ontario to Florida and Texas.
When the pokeweed is "all on fire with ripeness," as Thoreau
said; when the stout, vigorous stem (which he coveted for a
cane), the large leaves, and even the footstalks, take on
splendid tints of crimson lake, and the dark berries hang heavy
with juice in the thickets, then the birds, with increased,
hungry families, gather in flocks as a preliminary step to
traveling southward. Has the brilliant, strong-scented plant no
ulterior motive in thus attracting their attention at this
particular time? Surely! Robins, flickers, and downy woodpeckers,
chewinks and rose-breasted grosbeaks, among other feathered
agents, may be detected in the act of gormandizing on the fruit,
whose undigested seeds they will disperse far and wide. Their
droppings form the best of fertilizers for young seedlings;
therefore the plants which depend on birds to distribute seeds,
as most berry bearers do, send their children abroad to found new
colonies, well equipped for a vigorous start in life. What a
hideous mockery to continue to call this fruit the pigeon-berry,
when the exquisite bird whose favorite food it once was, has been
annihilated from this land of liberty by the fowler's net! And
yet flocks of wild pigeons, containing not thousands but millions
of birds, nested here even thirty years ago. When the market
became glutted with them, they were fed to hogs in the West!
Children, and some grown-ups, find the deep magenta juice of the
ink-berry useful. Notwithstanding the poisonous properties of the
root, in some sections the young shoots are boiled and eaten like
asparagus, evidently with no disastrous consequences. For any
service this plant may render to man and bird, they are under
special obligation to the little Halictus bees, but to other
short-tongued bees and flies as well. These small visitors,
flying from such of the flowers as mature their anthers first,
carry pollen to those in the female, or pistillate, stage.
Exposed nectar rewards their involuntary kindness. In stormy
weather, when no benefactors can fly, the flowers are adapted to
fertilize themselves through the curving of the styles.
Previous: STARRY CAMPION
Next: COMMON CHICKWEED
|ADD TO EBOOK