(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, conspicuous; styles

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.

POINTED BLUEEYED GRASS EYEBRIGHT BLUE STAR PURPLE VIRGIN'S BOWER facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail