Phytolacca acinosa Syn. esculenta
Indian Pokeweed, Inkberry, Pidgeonberry
Type/Hardiness Herbaceous, Perennial, Hardy
Flowering period June-August
Height 4-6ft/1.2-2m
Light preference Sun/part shade
Soil preference Any, well-drained
Sowing time/depth Spring, 0.2in/5mm
Although invariably referred to as American pokeweed (P. decandra Syn. americana), the variety seen in UK gardens is almost certainly Indian pokeweed (P. asinosa Syn. esculenta). Both look very similar, but P. acinosa has vertical, upright inflorescences, whilst P. americana has lax, dangling, flower stems, with single, spherical fruits on each panicle rather than clusters. Also, A. decandra is not reliably hardy in the UK, but P. acinosa is. Another Phytolacca variety, Chinese pokeweed (P. polyandra), has smoother shaped fruit clusters - their circumference being rather more circular. Although there is documentation suggesting that the leaves of phytolacca are edible if prepared correctly, all parts of this plant should be regarded as highly toxic and on no account eaten! Birds, however, love the berries (the very poisonous seeds pass whole through their digestive tract) making this a good wildlife plant. Since the fruits bear a passing resemblance to blackberries, this is probably not a good plant to grow where very young children play. Older kids just need to be made aware of the difference!
Sowing and/or growing instructions
Easy to grow. Sow direct in spring or autumn, thinning to about 2 feet apart; alternatively in modules in a cold frame to plant out later. Dead-head plants if you don't want many self-seeded plants. They are easy to pull out when young, but the top of the root develops into a huge swollen mass which will need to be dug out.
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