Pokeweed has been an ornamental plant in our gardens for a long time. Its black-red fruits, which appear on the grape-like infructescence in late summer, are very popular with birds. These also ensure the distribution of the fine seeds. Therefore, the plants that are keen to reproduce can sometimes spread quickly and become a real plague. Find out everything about the care of the pokeweed and a possible containment of the wild growth here.
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Determining the different types of pokeweed is very difficult because of the only slightly differentiating features of the individual plants. More than 25 species are known worldwide, some of which have quite confusing names. In our latitudes, only two species can be found, both of which grow as bushy, shrubby plants of about one to two meters in height:
- Asian pokeberry: It is also called edible pokeberry, Indian pokeberry or Phytolacca acinosa.
- American pokeweed: Phytolacca americana
None of the many species of pokeweed is native to us. They originally come from America or Asia, but were cultivated in some European gardens early on. However, the plants have settled into their new environment quite quickly and are very reproductive. For some time now, they have also spread and established themselves in our forests. That is why they are referred to as neophytes or invasive species. These are plants that naturalize in nature without any human intervention. Since they usually have no natural enemies in the newly settled environment, the plants can spread unhindered. In the worst case, this leads to the displacement of native plant species. Since combating neophytes in the wild has little chance of success,
All parts of the pokeweed plant, but especially the roots and seeds, contain toxic substances. This is why the blackberry-like fruits in particular pose a particular danger to children and pets. In adults, a quantity of up to ten berries is considered harmless, but it can still lead to nausea and vomiting and diarrhea. Although the Asian pokeweed is nicknamed the edible pokeberry, this species is also poisonous. While the toxic ingredients are only present in low concentrations in this plant, its American sister is considered to be significantly more toxic.
distinguishing features of the species
At first glance, the two types of pokeweed look very similar. Both plants have nearly identical foliage and a dozen to a hundred white flowers on spiked inflorescences. However, based on these inflorescences, they can be easily distinguished if you look a little closer:
- Asian pokeweed: inflorescence upright, berries usually consist of about eight segments
- American pokeweed: Inflorescences and fruits are pendulous, individual berries are spherical and larger, not so strongly segmented.
Since the American pokeweed is significantly more poisonous, the Asian pokeweed should preferably be planted in your own garden. Because not only is the plant itself significantly more toxic, it also releases these substances into the soil. In extreme cases, this can lead to neighboring plants dying off.
The pokeweed is a very undemanding plant. The only requirement for good growth is loose soil that contains enough nutrients. The large perennial comes into its own at its best when planted as a solitary plant (standing alone) on the edge of a wood. The plants grow very quickly and reach a height of about one to two meters after just a few months. Due to their fast and bushy growth, they can take away the sunlight from short-statured neighbors and crowd them out of the garden.
- Flowers: From June, white flower clusters about 15 centimeters long
- Fruits: Black to dark red, like blackberries, September and October
- Light requirements: sunny to semi-shady
- Soil: no special requirements. A moist, humus-rich loam or sandy soil is ideal.
- pH value: slightly acidic to neutral
- Water requirement: medium
watering and fertilizing
Pokeweed should be kept evenly moist. Standing water from the rain barrel or a pond is ideal for watering. As fertilizer, a single application of compost or a long-term vegetable fertilizer in spring is sufficient.
When buying a pokeweed plant or its seeds, you should pay attention to the species, because due to their reduced toxicity, Asian pokeweed should find their place in the garden.
- Planting distance: 80-100 centimetres
- Dig a planting hole.
- At least 1.5 times the size of the root ball
- sandy or loamy soil: mix in compost.
- heavy soils: incorporate sand into the soil.
- Pour lightly.
When planting, make sure that there are no sun-loving plants in the vicinity that are short. These should have a minimum distance of about 80 centimeters to the pokeweed, otherwise they will quickly be covered by the fast-growing plant.
The pokeweed form bushy shrubs between one and two meters tall. The plants do not need a shaping cut. If you do not want new plants in the garden, you should remove the withered inflorescences early (before the berries form).
Propagation by seeds
In the rare event that the pokeweed does not spread in the garden by itself, you can also propagate it by growing from seeds. For this purpose, the dried fruits on the plant are cut in November and the ripe seeds are removed from them. The pokeweed belongs to the cold germs. That means the tiny seeds need cool temperatures to develop before germinating. Therefore, they are best sown in the fall or very early spring in the designated spot in the garden. Later transplantation is always difficult, since the pokeweed develops a deep taproot when it is young. This can then only be removed by digging very deep.
The cold required for germination can also be simulated by storing the seeds in the refrigerator. To do this, the seed is placed in moist sand and stored in a waterproof bag or covered pot in the refrigerator for about four to six weeks. After the cold period, seeds can then be sown.
- Time: March
- Germination temperature: 20-25 degrees
- Substrate: sandy potting soil, cactus soil or coconut fiber (cocohum)
- Sow in a propagator or planter.
- Place in moist substrate.
- Cover lightly with soil.
- Cover the planting bowl with a bag, foil or pane of glass.
- Keep soil moderately moist, never wet.
- Remove the foil for a few minutes every two to three days to prevent mold from forming.
- Germination time: 3-5 weeks
- Prick out the young plants when they are about three centimeters tall (plant in individual pots).
- Bright location without direct sunlight.
- Put outdoors from May.
Find the right potting soil
Unfortunately, far too little attention is often paid to the potting soil, also known as the substrate. The earth in which the plant grows is, so to speak, its home. Here it develops its roots and receives moisture and nutrients that it needs for its growth. Although most plants can survive in an extremely unsuitable substrate, the gardener makes life unnecessarily difficult for the plant and himself. With a few exceptions, most plants prefer an air-permeable substrate (many small cavities), which on the one hand shows good storage capacity for water, but on the other hand drains excess irrigation water well.
Plants absorb nutrients from the soil through water. A suitable amount must therefore be present in the substrate. These are usually various salts that slowly dissolve in the water and are therefore available to the plant. Organic fertilizers are better than chemical fertilizers, such as well-rotted compost, which you can often obtain for little money from municipal composting plants if you don’t produce it in your own garden. Very few plant species like acidic soil (like peat) or heavy chalky soil, most prefer a pH between slightly acidic and neutral (5.5-7).
A good substrate can easily be mixed by yourself:
- normal garden soil
- Fillers such as expanded clay, sand or very fine gravel
- very mature compost
While the mixture of the individual components should be about one third each for older plants, a high concentration of nutrients is undesirable for seedlings, as they can damage the young plants. Therefore, with a substrate for germination and cultivation, the compost should initially be avoided.
The pokeweed is a perennial plant that survives the winter unscathed in mild locations. While the American pokeweed perennial can be somewhat sensitive to severe frosts, the Asian form is somewhat more resistant. When the first cold days in November herald the onset of winter, the infructescences dry up, the plant wilts and dries up. The turnip-like taproot usually survives the winter months without any problems and sprout again in spring. For protection, the plant should be cut close to the ground in autumn after the leaves have withered and covered with some brushwood, straw or dry leaves.
Combating wild growth
After the first joy at the wildly rampant plant, which grows and thrives almost without any care and even on poor soil, new pokeweed berries sprout everywhere in many a garden in spring. The fruits serve as a food source for numerous birds in autumn and winter, which then excrete the undigested seeds in their droppings and spread them widely. As can also be observed with the dandelion, the plants hardly need any soil to grow wild, they even drift in the narrow cracks between paving stones. It is difficult to permanently remove them from the garden. It is not enough to just cut off the top parts of the plant. The deep taproot must also be completely dug up and removed. As long as there are still flowering and fruit-producing pokeweed in the garden, they will continue to spread there. In order to contain it, the flowers on the plants must be cut out so that no new fruits can ripen.
Pokeweed has become more common in gardens lately. The large, eye-catching perennials are particularly beautiful as solitary plants. In early summer, candle-shaped flower clusters with up to one hundred individual flowers form on the plant, which then ripen into blackberry-like fruits in autumn. But a little caution is required: the plant is not only poisonous, but also spreads quickly and easily throughout the garden.