Alien plant appeared in Croatian garden

donald haarmann donald-haarmann at
Tue Sep 8 11:47:44 EST 1998

Henk Veldman wrote in message
+AD4-LIPA wrote:
+AD4APg- Please help me solve a riddle.
+AD4APg- An unknown plant has grown in the garden of
+AD4APg- Lipa
+AD4-Phytolacca americana+ADs- Pokeweed
+AD4-The roots are the source of pokeweed mitogen or pokeweed agglutinin,
+AD4-used in some tissue culture techniques.
+AD4-The plant was introduced from America and is now quite widespread in
+AD4-western Europe, in gardens and parks, the seeds being dispersed by birds
+AD4-like blackbirds that eat the fruits and in doing so produce terrible
+AD4-deep purple fecal stains around the house and on cars etc.
+AD4-I never heard that people eat the fruits (and I did not taste them). It
+AD4-is said that the young shoots are edible as a vegetable.
+AD4-The dutch name (karmozijnbes) translates as crimson berry and I think
+AD4-the berries were indeed used for dyeing.

A Gardener+IBk-s World
Plain Old Pokeweed, The Jewel of Autumn
New York Times 10xi88

A BRITISH horticulturist startled me last year by proclaiming it to be 
among the world's most beautiful of plants, especially in the autumn. A 
friend down South wrote me last month about suddenly seeing something 
gleaming like rubies and garnets in a far corner of her garden. She walked 
down to investigate, then felt shock when she saw what it was. It was 
pokeweed (Phytolacca Americana).

And indeed, to the unprejudiced eye -- and the uninformed mind -- our 
native pokeweed is indeed a noble plant, from the first emergence of its 
succulent and edible shoots in the spring. In summer, its leaves remain 
fresh and green, even in bad drought. By late summer, it assumes a 
lovely, widely spreading habit from its central crown. The clusters  of white 
flowers are welcome when they arrive. (Given these virtues, I understand 
why a superb German seed company whose catalogue just came in the 
mail lists it as a garden perennial. But I suspect that the customers may 
have second thoughts.) But poke (the word is American Indian in origin) 
does not reach its true excellence of beauty until fall. Then the stems 
become a glowing, somewhat translucent, shade of cranberry red with 
purple overtones. After the shiny jade berries glower into a deep black 
purple, they are entirely admirable both to human beings and to birds. 
More than 50 different kinds, including doves and cedar waxwings, devour 
them with enjoyment.

I am by no means the first American to feel and to express delight in 
pokeweed. Of it, Thoreau wrote, +ACI-Its cylindrical racemes of berries of 
various hues, from green to dark purple, six or seven inches long, are 
gracefully drooping on all sides, offering repasts to the birds, and even the 
sepals from which the birds have picked the berries are a brilliant lake red, 
with crimson, flame-like reflections, equal to anything of the kind -- all on 
fire with ripeness.+ACI- He also, I believe, used one of its long stems as a 
makeshift walking stick.

But this independent beauty has two substantial flaws. Its highly 
philoprogenitive nature more than earns its name of weed. And it is very 
poisonous, or at least parts of it are.

Poke is such a successful weed that I would be surprised if it didn't 
grown in almost all the gardens in the eastern United States. Those 50 
kinds of birds that relish its fruits excrete the seeds wherever they fly, a 
very large territory indeed. Pokeweed couldn't do a better job of 
reproducing itself if it sprouted its own wings to spread its seeds far and 
wide from on high. The seeds are viable for years exceeding the usual life 
span of humans. If buried by cultivation, they can lie dormant for as long 
as a century. If the soil is then disturbed and they are brought near the 
surface, they will germinate.

The house I live in was built around 1812.

I'm always disturbing the surface of the soil around it, and always 
discovering new poke seedlings every spring. The thought that they may 
have grown from seeds a waxwing excreted when my great-grandparents 
were barely adolescents gives me a sense that I'm linked with history. It 
also suggests that pokeweed and I will goon forever- or that it will go on 
forever, and I will dig it up the rest of my days as a gardener.

As for its poisonous qualities. the real villain is the taproot. The young 
greens are edible, as what Southerners call +ACI-poke sallit+ACI- -- +ACI-sallit+ACI- in the 
Elizabethan English meaning +ACI-of. cooked greens.+ACI- They are toxic enough, 
however, that they should be cooked for a. long time, with two changes of 

The berries are also poisonous, though not nearly as poisonous as the 
roots. I hear that they can be cooked in a pie that is both palatable and 
safe. I do not mean to test this report. It is, however, substantiated in the 
book I generally check first to see what is edible and what is not.

In that book, +ACI-Human Poisoning From Native and Cultivated Plants+ACI- 
(second edition, 1974, Duke University Press), James W. Hardin and Dr. 
Jay M. Arena, M.D., write that +ACI-cooked berries are edible and used for 
pies without harm. Nevertheless, this is one of the most dangerous 
poisonous plants in the United States, because people eat the leaves 
without proper and complete boiling, or accidentally pull up the roots with 
the leaves.+ACI- Their advice, 1. think, is sufficient to encourage most of us to 
be diligent about removing this undeniably lovely plant wherever it ap-
pears in our gardens. But we can still admire it along country roadsides 
when it is +ACI-all on fire with ripeness,+ACI- for the sight is one of the true 
epiphanies of autumn.

donald j haarmann
It provokes the desire but it takes away the 
performance.Therefore much drink may be
said to be an equivocator with lechery: it
makes him and it mars him+ADs- it sets him on
and it takes him off.
William Shakespeare

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