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Pokeweed

Phytolacca americana
Updated Feb 09, 2023
 
1

Make a Positive Identification

Species: Pokeweed
Common Pokeweed with red stems, green unripe berries

Weston Miller, Oregon State University

Pokeweed often matures into a shrub or small tree. But it is not woody and dies back with the onset of winter.

Species: Pokeweed
Pokeweed leaves

Each leaf is 5–20 inches long. The leaves are about one third as wide as they are long. They alternate along the stem. The leaves smell bad when crushed.

Species: Pokeweed
Red pokeweed stem

Karan A. Rawlins, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

Stems grow two to eight feet each year from a white, fleshy root. They are colored green, red, or purple. The hollow stems are smooth and grow up to 4 inches across.

Species: Pokeweed
White pokeweed flower and buds

Tiny white-green flowers develop in early summer. The flower cluster often grows opposite a leaf. Each blossom has five round, modified leaves (sepals) that look like petals.

Species: Pokeweed
Dark-purple pokeweed berries on drooping stems

The flowers mature into green berries. In late summer or early fall, berries turn dark purple. The berries occur as a drooping bunch that resembles a grape cluster as shown in the photo. Birds eat the berries and scatter the seeds. New plants grow from the seeds.

Species: Pokeweed
Cluster of pokeweed shoots

Ohio State Weed Lab, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org

Pokeweed seedlings have alternate leaves. The leaves are red on the underside. Shoots emerge from established root crowns in the spring. The shoots resemble seedlings, but are thicker and clustered together as shown in the photo.

LOOK-ALIKE: KNOTWEED (INVASIVE)
Species: Knotweed (Invasive)
Japanese knotweed leaves with upward-growing white flowers

Jan Samanek, Phytosanitary Administration, Bugwood.org

Knotweed (invasive) looks like pokeweed. Both plants have hollow, red stems and large leaves of similar shape. Knotweed flowers are smaller and more abundant. The flowers grow upward along the stem. Pokeweed differs with drooping flower bunches and fruit. Knotweed does not form large, fleshy berries.


Different risks or methods

If you have knotweed (invasive) on property your manage, take action to control it right away.

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2

Pokeweed Benefits

Pokeweed is meaningful to Native American cultures in the Southeastern United States. It is used as a traditional food, dye, and medicine.

Even though pokeweed is poisonous to people, it is sometimes eaten. It requires special preparation to remove the toxins. Without proper preparation, pokeweed poisoning can occur. Ingestion of any part of pokeweed is not recommended.
 

Pokeweed Risks

  • Pokeweed has escaped from gardens. It is spreading throughout urban areas. The seeds are spread by birds.
  • All parts of pokeweed are poisonous to people, pets, and livestock. Ingestion of any part of pokeweed is not recommended.
Risk Card
Does it cause harm?
Adults & Children
High
Property
Some
Pets
High
Annoyance
High
Environment
High
Action Highly Recommended
 
3

Take Action

If you have pokeweed on property you manage, report it. Take action to control it right away.

Do I need to take action?

  • Yes. Report the plant location.
  • If pokeweed grows in your landscape, take steps to remove it. Look for new plants coming in with bird droppings.
  • Pokeweed is currently sold by nurseries and online. Don’t buy this invasive species or plant it in your landscape.
  • Don’t dig, divide, and transport plants or soil from property that contains pokeweed plants.

What if I do nothing?

  • Pokeweed is spreading across the Pacific Northwest, especially in urban areas.
  • All parts of pokeweed are poisonous to people, pets, and livestock.

Help may be available to control pokeweed on your property
Pokeweed is considered an EDRR (Early Detection Rapid Response) species. Agencies across the Pacific Northwest are coordinating efforts to manage known populations and limit the spread of this invasive plant.

NEED HELP?

Consider a licensed pest control company. Learn How to Hire a Pest Control Company.
Your local Extension Specialist in Oregon  and other states  can suggest other methods.

 
4
Solutions for Pokeweed

Early Detection and Rapid Response

  • Watch for pokeweed on property you manage. Remove it before it becomes a bigger problem.

Physical Removal of Plants and Non-Chemical Methods

  • Pull seedlings and new plants out of the ground.

Herbicides (Weed Killers)

  • Herbicides effectively control pokeweed when used according to label directions.

Monitoring and Follow-Up

  • After management activities, especially removal with hand tools, return to the area during the growing season.
  • Look for regrowth and seedlings. Take action as needed.

Jump To

Method Does it work? Is it safe? Recommendation
A
Physically Remove
Effective
Low risk
B
Herbicides Triclopyr and Glyphosate
Effective
Moderate risk
Use if Necessary
C
If Using Herbicides, Protect Yourself & Minimize Risks
D
Prevent Pokeweed
 
A

Physically Remove

Non-Chemical Method

Weston Miller, Oregon State University

Physically Remove

  • Hand-pull seedlings and small plants.
  • Cut off the flowers or berry clusters before they ripen. Put the flowers and berries in the trash.
Does it work?
Effective
  • Check plantings yearly for new pokeweed plants generated from bird droppings.
  • Use preventive measures for best results.
How much effort?
High effort

Remove as much of the root mass as possible. Dispose of the plants in the trash.

What's the risk?
Low risk
Possible risk of exposure or harm from chemicals
NONE

Pulling or hand digging is practical for seedlings or individual plants of pokeweed.

Thick pokeweed taproot

Joseph M. DiTomaso, University of California - Davis, Bugwood.org

  • Large taproots should be cut as far as possible below the crown.
  • Dig out established plants. Remove as much of the root as possible using a pick or shovel.
  • Digging is most effective when the soil is moist.
Large sprouting pokeweed root crown

Ohio State Weed Lab, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org

  • For larger plants, the taproot grows up to the size of a bowling ball.
  • Cut the remaining roots below the root crown. Pokeweed can re-sprout from root pieces left in the soil.
Shiny black pokeweed berries

John D. Byrd, Mississippi State University, Bugwood.org

  • Berries are large and glossy black.
  • Dispose of flowers and berries in a sealed plastic bag in the trash.

POKEweed Removal Tips

  • Cut off stems that re-sprout from remaining roots.
  • Dispose of stems, leaves, and roots in the green waste stream, or compost them.
  • Cut off flowers and berries. Put the flowers, berries, and seeds in a sealed plastic bag. Dispose of the bag in the trash.

Soil Disturbance and Erosion

  • Minimize soil disturbance as much as possible to prevent seed germination.
  • Regrade the soil after digging pokeweed roots. Apply mulch (when appropriate).
  • Take steps to prevent erosion as needed.
  • Replant the area to keep seeds in the soil from germinating.
 
B

Herbicides Triclopyr and Glyphosate

Chemical Method: Use with caution

Chameleonseye, iStock

Herbicides Triclopyr and Glyphosate

Use if Necessary

Herbicides that contain the active ingredients triclopyr and glyphosate effectively kill pokeweed when used according to label directions.

Does it work?
Effective

Monitor the area for regrowth and re-treat every year, if needed.

How much effort?
Moderate effort

Apply herbicide to pokeweed when it is actively growing. Treat it before fruits develop to minimize seed production.

What's the risk?
Moderate risk
  • Herbicides come with real risks. ALWAYS read the entire label front to back. Review instructions even for brands you know.
  • Herbicides can run off your site into waterways and may harm wildlife. See How to Keep Pesticides Out of Waterways.
Possible risk of exposure or harm from chemicals
Using herbicides includes some amount of risk. The lowest risk comes with using alternative methods.

You may be exposed to an herbicide if you:

  • Get it on your skin
  • Breathe it in
  • Eat or smoke afterward without washing hands
  • Touch or eat plants that are wet with spray (you, pets, or children)
  • Bring it inside on your shoes or clothes

Follow directions closely to reduce risk.

Herbicides with active ingredients triclopyr and glyphosate, used individually or in a mixture, are effective chemical treatments for pokeweed. Look for these chemical names in the “Active Ingredients” section of product labels.

Photo of herbicide label that highlights active ingredient triclopyr

Weston Miller, Oregon State University

  • The white box on the example product label highlights active ingredient triclopyr. Text on the label states “Kills completely – stumps and roots won’t regrow.”
  • Triclopyr doesn’t injure most grasses. It is a good choice for treating pokeweed growing next to desired grasses in lawn, pasture, and meadow areas.
Photo of herbicide label highlighting active ingredient glyphosate

Weston Miller, Oregon State University

  • The white box on the example label highlights active ingredient glyphosate. The text on the label states “Kills grass and weeds around flower beds, trees, shrubs....”
  • Glyphosate will damage most plants and grasses. Don’t let the spray contact plants you want to keep.

Herbicide Application Tips

  • These ingredients will damage most plants and grasses. Don’t let the spray contact plants you want to keep.
  • Premixed products are available in hardware stores and garden centers.
  • Apply herbicide to pokeweed when it is actively growing. Treat it before fruits develop to minimize seed production.
  • Good coverage of foliage is critical for success.
  • Pokeweed may take several months to die after an herbicide application.
  • Monitor the area for regrowth and re-treat every year, if needed.

 

Minimize the potential impact of herbicides to bees and other pollinators. Treat pokeweed plants before or after they flower. If plants are blooming when you need to treat them, apply in the morning or evening when bees are less active. Avoid spraying pollinators directly. For more information, see OSU’s How to Reduce Bee Poisoning from Pesticides 
 

If Using Herbicides, Protect Yourself & Minimize Risks

Chemical Method: Use with Caution
Blue heron in marsh

BrianLasenby, iStock

Why is it important to read herbicide labels?

  • They have detailed information on how to use the product correctly and legally.
  • They contain information on potential hazards of the product.
  • They provide instructions you should follow for poisonings and spills.
  • Following label instructions helps you to minimize the risks and maximize the benefits.

Key Herbicide Safety Tips

  • Read the entire label front to back.
  • Follow the instructions.
  • Review the instructions even for brands you know.
  • Only apply the product where the label says it may be applied.
  • Be precise in your application. More is not better.

READ THE LABEL & Follow Instructions
It has instructions to protect you and the environment.

  • Labels are different for every product and they often change over time.
  • Use a magnifying glass.
  • Pay attention to CAUTION, WARNING, and DANGER statements.
  • Pay attention to the PRECAUTIONARY STATEMENTS.
  • The law states you must read and follow herbicide instructions.

Protect Yourself
Eye, skin & lung irritants

  • Wear the right protective gear. This often includes chemical-resistant gloves, safety glasses, a long-sleeve shirt, pants, socks, and shoes.
  • Mix outdoors or in a well-ventilated area.
  • Wash hands after mixing or applying, and before eating or smoking.
  • Take a shower immediately after handling herbicides.
  • Wash clothes worn while mixing or applying separately from other laundry.

Protect Children & Pets
Children and pets are at risk if they eat or touch the plants before it dries.

  • Keep them away during and after applying herbicides (read label for how long).
  • Remove toys and pet dishes from yard before applying.
  • Don’t track herbicide products into your home on shoes or clothes.

Protect Pollinators

  • Apply in the early morning or evening when bees are less active.
  • Kill weeds before they flower. Avoid spraying flowering plants.
  • Do not spray on bees or insects.

Protect Plants You Want to Keep

  • Glyphosate and similar herbicide ingredients damage both grass and broadleaf plants.
  • Minimize spraying of foliage, stems, exposed roots, or the trunks of desirable shrubs or trees to avoid harm.
  • Follow the label to avoid damaging the roots of trees and shrubs.

Avoid Wet, Windy, or Hot Weather
Use during favorable weather for best results.

  • Don’t spray when it’s raining or when rain is expected in the next 24 hours.
  • Wind causes spray to drift that can get on you and desired plants.
  • Herbicides may be less effective in hot weather if the target plants are moisture-stressed.
  • Some herbicides can turn into a vapor in hot weather and damage nearby plants.

Don’t Spray into Water

  • It’s illegal to apply herbicides in a stream or slow moving/wetland pool.
  • You need a product registered for aquatic areas. This includes waterways, ditches, drains, and other places where water collects.

Storage & Disposal

  • Store in a secure area away from children.
  • Don’t put unused herbicide products in the trash.
  • Never pour down any drain or waterway.
  • Take unused herbicides to a hazardous waste facility.

Call  1-800-CLEANUP (1-800-253-2687) to find out where to dispose of herbicides.

For the Portland metro region in Oregon, contact Metro’s Recycling Information. Call  503-234-3000, email   or visit Metro’s website  

More about:

About Using Pesticides on School Grounds in Oregon

If using pesticides on school grounds, there are special rules in Oregon. See School Integrated Pest Management  (Oregon Department of Agriculture).

NEED HELP?

The National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC)  can answer questions about pest control chemicals.
 1-800-858-7378 or npic@ace.orst.edu  

Consider using a licensed pest or weed control company. Learn How to Hire a Pest Control Company.

Your local Extension Specialist in Oregon  and other states  can suggest other methods.

 

Prevent Pokeweed

Pokeweed seedling

Ohio State Weed Lab, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org

Look for Pokeweed Regrowth and Seedlings
  • If more pokeweed grows in the area, new seeds could be deposited by birds.
  • Look for pokeweed seedlings as shown in the photo.
Landscape area with native plants growing densely together

Weston Miller, Oregon State University

Replant the Affected Area
  • After controlling pokeweed, consider replanting the area. Replanting is needed when common pokeweed growth or removal significantly damages a site and few or no desirable plants remain.
  • Create a multi-year revegetation plan. Plans include site preparation and planting details, plant care, and follow-up control for pokeweed and other weeds.
  • Plan for at least 2–3 years of monitoring and maintenance.
  • Your local extension specialist, soil and water conservation district, or a professional revegetation specialist can suggest strategies for your area.

Invasive Species Alert

  • Invasives are non-native species that spread aggressively and alter the environment.
  • Controlling pokeweed is costly.
  • Please do your part to control it on property you manage. It can spread beyond your property and have an adverse impact on your neighbors.

If you think you’ve found pokeweed (invasive) in the grey areas of this map, please report it to the Oregon Invasive Species Hotline at:  1-866-INVADER (1-888-468-2337) or use their online reporting form  

open Map static invasive map
Invasive species data @ 2022, iMapInvasives (NatureServe)

The map shows the distribution of pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) in Oregon. If you find pokeweed in a new area (orange shows already reported cases), please report it.

View Larger Map >

Content provided by editor Weston Miller and writers Signe Danler and J. Jeremiah Mann. Pesticide safety information edited by Kaci Buhl.

 Peer reviewed by OSU Department of Horticulture.

Photo of Weston Miller

Weston Miller

Project Founder and Content Writer

Weston Miller served as Community and Urban Horticulture faculty for Oregon State University Extension Service for Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington Counties. Weston is an author for content for this website. He developed funding partnerships with Portland area agencies to initiate and build out the Solve Pest Problems website focused on this goals:

Signe Danler

Signe Danler (Editor/Writer)

Signe supports the OSU Extension Master Gardener Program by producing educational content for online Master Gardener training courses, and teaching and managing the OSU-Extension online Home Horticulture courses. She also designs residential and commercial landscapes, specializing in regenerative gardening and landscaping practices.

J. Jeremiah Mann

J. Jeremiah Mann

J. Jeremiah Mann completed a Physical Science undergraduate degree at Humboldt State University, and M.S, Ph.D focusing on plant science topics at UC Davis. He went on to work for the Natural Resources Conservation Service and in a leadership position serving a private agricultural technology company. He currently lives in Sacramento California where he consults on pest and property management topics.

Photo of Kaci Buhl

Kaci Buhl

At the state level, I lead the Pesticide Safety Education Program (PSEP). The program hosts live recertification events around the state, serving over 1,000 licensed pesticide applicators each year. We also produce web-based training modules and license-preparation study manuals. Special training for unlicensed pesticide applicators is also available through a grant from the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. The PSEP at OSU works closely with the Oregon Department of Agriculture's Pesticides Division.