More Information About Phytolacca
The genus Phytolacca contains about 25 species native throughout the western and southern hemispheres. They are all large perennials with a loose habit and coarse texture, except for Phytolacca dioica and Phytolacca weberbaueri which are South American softwooded trees. Here in the US, phtyolacca almost always means Phytolacca americana, the American Pokeweed. The word phtyolacca translates from Latin roughly as "red dye plant".
Here in America, Phytolacca americana has a lengthy cultural history. It starts with the Algonquian Indians who called the plant "pocan" (hence the word "poke") and extracted a red dye from the berries. In the rural South (including North Carolina), folks have used pokeweed as a medicine and food for hundreds of years. The young leaves and shoots are boiled 3 times to remove the deadly toxins and then eaten like spinach. Juice from the poisonous berries is boiled to remove the toxic properties and mixed into pies and jams. Pokeweed is such an integral part of southern culture that there are "poke sallet" festivals throughout the South and even an Elvis Presley song "Polk Salad Annie", a tribute to southern girls. Although pokeweed sap is deadly toxic in the wrong dose, it is used as a medicine with purgative, skin improving, anti-cancer, and anti-viral properties, and is also valuable as an immune stimulant. Wow.
Phtyolacca is often derided because it is a common weed found along roadsides and in fields everywhere, but don't discount it. Pokeweed is a tough dieback perennial with large leaves and beautiful dark purple berry clusters that attract birds to the garden (they are unaffected by the poison). There are a few improved cultivars of Phytolacca americana with garden merit. The cultivar 'Silberstein' has cream leaves with green spots and the foliage of our pokeweed cultivar 'Sunny Side Up' is a nice chartreuse yellow. Other cultivars have improved fruit clusters.
Pokeweed grows 6-10' tall and will have a nice shrubby habit if periodically pinched back early in the season. Think of pokeweed as a very large perennial coleus and you can understand how to use it in your garden design. When you are ready to buy Phytolacca for your garden, check out our online offering of Phytolacca for sale.