Poke Weed: To Eat or Not to Eat, that is the Question!

img 0349 300x225 Poke Weed: To Eat or Not to Eat, that is the Question!

The past two months were unusually dry for the second year in a row in my area.  Today periodic rain showers were a refreshing change of pace and a welcome sign to me that Fall is coming!

I’m currently cooped up indoors recovering after a minor surgery, but I made my way outdoors when the first ray of sunlight peeped through the clouds, to take pictures and look around.  I found a stray Poke Weed that had taken up residence under the deck stairs, and was struck at how pretty even that looked after the rain. With the right mindset anything can be beautiful!  Covered in rain drops those berries look inviting to even me, although I am pretty sure they are not what the doctor ordered!

Can You Eat Poke Weed?

I was reminded of a lecture that one of my professors gave me years ago.  He told the class that the leaves of a young Poke Weed are edible and safe to humans, as long as the plant is not producing fruit or flowers. He explained that once reproductive cycle begins, the plant, and later berries are toxic for human consumption, and that the window of opportunity around which the plant is edible can vary, thereby making it a questionable snack for the unwary. I chuckled when I remembered that random fact and tucked it back into the recesses of my brain reserved only for life-or-death survival tips likely to benefit me in the event of nuclear holocaust. Should I ever be eking out a living with nomadic tribes in the hills of Tennessee, I’ll happily volunteer to fix a poke weed salad if the others go club dinner over the head, but short of those extreme circumstances, I’ll stick with Romaine Lettuce!

With the potential risk involved, I think I’ll leave the plant and its berries to the local wildlife for now, and hope they return the favor by dropping their berry dyed “calling cards” on the neighbor’s cars and not mine! But just in case you ever do find yourself desperate, here are some hints to help you identify Poke Weed.

How to Identify Poke Weed

Pokeweed often grows rapidly in one season up to a height of 10 feet.  Generally first appearing in late spring, they prefer hearty soil, and a little moisture, and have rather fleshy stems that are easily broken, and pink, with the color deepening at the time of fruiting.  Pokeweed flowers from July to September, and produces self-pollinated fruit anywhere from late summer to mid-fall.  The flowers of the plant grow at the ends of the branches, in clusters of white flowers that are followed by clusters of dark blue or purple berries.  The berries produce a deep magenta dye that is often impossible to remove from clothing.  (Belated apologies to my mother, who made many heroic efforts against set-in stains following childhood “combat” missions at the park with the neighborhood kids)

What do you think: Is there an odd plant that you have been told could be a survival-only, Bear Grylls-style, eat only as a last resort, food source?

Recognizing and Removing Invasive Plant: The Multiflora Rose

img 0113 225x300 Recognizing and Removing Invasive Plant: The Multiflora RoseThe story of the Multiflora Rose is one I would have loved growing up, because unlike other invasive plant species, the story of the Multiflora Rose begins as a Western, complete with cowboys and gunsmoke!

Once upon a time out west there actually were “free range” cattle, who probably ate organic food, and slept on bedding made of 100% natural fibers (if you consider hay a fiber).  These cows however were difficult to keep track of, and occasionally wandered out of range, or “found new homes,” and when the time came to round them up, the cowboys had a difficult time accounting for every animal.  A new idea was born somewhere in the late eighteen hundreds, and “green fencing” was invented in the US.  I’m sure that this wave of “green thinking” was a breakthrough for it’s time, saving cowboys and ranchers time and money that had previously been spent in the purchase, mending, and placing of wooden fences. Cattlemen of all types discovered a favorite plant in a new import from Asia, called the “Mutliflora Rose,” a plant that thrived in its role as a living barrier and hedge around pastureland, channeling the traffic patterns of steer and cow across the prairie.  The rose was dutifully planted across the west, and served it’s purpose beautifully!

A natural, flowering, rosebush fence  must have been the best of all possible worlds, providing function, and beauty – two things I love myself!  Unfortunately, in the mid nineteen hundreds, the plant was selected again, this time by the highway administrations of the day, to fill in median strips, and brighten up the roadsides throughout the United States.  Hindsight being 20/20, we now know that the plant has a tendency to spread, and take over naturalized woodland areas, choking out native vegetation.

I was recently taking a walk through the woods, in a designated wildlife area that I manage, and found this rose cheerfully blooming away. I quickly made a note of the young rose’s location, and planned coming back another day to spray the plant with Round-Up.

Why You Need To Recognize this Plant:

  1. This plant currently infests up to 45 million acres in the Eastern United States alone!  Severe infestations lower property values, and cause our government to spend 30 million (plus) per year to help agricultural businesses, and recreationsal spaces reclaim their land from this plant.
  2. One single bush can produce half a million seeds, that once fallen on the soil, can remain viable for up to 20 years.  That’s one long term problem you don’t want to deal with!
  3. Each bush can grow to a height of approximately 6-10 feet tall, and 13 feet wide. Rare specimins have grown 20 feet tall.
  4. The plant’s growth pattern creates tangled, thorny thickets impenitrible to humans, small mammals, and deer, ruining park land, and fields, and causing eye and skin reactions in cattle.
  5. Wild birds especially find the fruit of this plant irresistable, and will unintentionally spread this plant, through their feces, throughout your neighborhood, or property.  Quick identification of this plant, and timely removal will save you untold amounts of work in the future.

For the eco-conscious gardener, homeowner, or business person, this is one plant to keep an eye on, and remove by hand, or with herbicide, when possible.  It is one exotic invasive plant that is gaining turf in backyards, and highway islands across the nation, and the government can use our help in eradicating it.


  1. Green methods include: cutting, and bagging, controlled burns (by professionals please!), and mowing. Mowing with large equipment will kill young plants, while heavy infestations will need regular mowings for up to a few years to kill mature plants, and prevent it’s spread.
  2. In areas where Multiflora Rose is returning after mowing or pruning, an herbicide, or Round-Up sprayed on the exposed (freshly trimmed) stump, will kill the shrub.
  3. Large infestations often call for broadcast spreading of herbicide to kill the plant in place.

For more information on this plant, visit The United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Library

The Dobsonfly

dobsonfly21 The Dobsonfly

Like so many other summer night barbecues, the one I attended the other night was crashed by an unexpected nocturnal pest. This particular night though, the guest was over four inches long, and had a six inch wing span!

Falling into a category of giant bugs large enough to be one of the horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Dobsonfly is one creepy bug guaranteed to clear your deck of guests in shear seconds!

Much to the alarm of the men grilling our dinner, this huge bug dropped out of the sky, and landed near them on the back of one of the deck chairs.  Never having seen anything like it, they quickly caged it under a lacrosse stick, and offered peeks of it to the rest of the guest as we arrived, to see if anyone could identify it.  Generally, the tomboy in me loves a bug identification challenge, and I gave a quick search on the usual online bug guides for ideas as to what the insect could be. When my initial guesses as to it’s species were wrong, my sister and a friend worked with me to herd the bug into a large piece of Tupperware, so I could have a pest expert I knew identify it for me.  It is with absolutely no regret that I tell you that the bug in Tupperware went directly into the freezer, to preserve it intact, until I could bring it to work with me for an ID!

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Identifying and Controlling Poison Ivy

img 0237 225x300 Identifying and Controlling Poison Ivy

This year, the East Coast is experiencing an unbelievable boom in Poison Ivy! From woodsy borders, and the sides of the highways, to backyard fences, this American native plant is spreading at an amazing rate just since the spring of this year! Working in property management, I try to keep an eye open for future problems as they occur, and to maintain a balance between the people I work for, and the natural environment. I did some research into this unusual phenomenon, and discovered that I was not the only one who had made some links between the higher levels of rain, and stable temperatures, and the spread of this plant.

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