Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Nature Notes: Pretty Poison

Variegated Pokeweed

The Nature Notes challenge at Michelle's blog asks us to take a walk around and see what's going on outside, to pay attention to things we might not have noticed before. Actually, I noticed this five-foot-tall shrubby thing weeks ago, but had never trekked out through the tall grass for a closer look. I figured it was a diseased milkweed. But no. This is a real rarity, a variegated pokeweed.

We have plenty of pokeweed around here, but this is the only plant I have ever seen with variegated leaves. It took some quality time with Google to be sure, but that's what it is all right. A variegated pokeweed.

What I also discovered is that poke is seriously poisonous. Only the earliest leaves can be eaten, and those have to be boiled a couple of times to reduce the toxins. Once the stems are red, it's too late. The leaves, flowers and berries are all bad news, and the roots are even worse. The plants are poisonous to turkeys, horses, pigs, sheep, cattle and humans, but are apparently an important food for mourning doves. (Go figure.)

Now, when I was a kid in the south, spring was poke salad season. We never ate it ourselves, but when the weed cropped up around my grandmother's garden we literally put it in a paper poke and took to Mrs. Smith down the block. She loved the stuff. I hear it is available at farmers markets now, and that there are festivals dedicated to poke. It's supposed to be a lot like cooked spinach, so I can't fathom its popularity. To each his own, I suppose.

The more I explore around here, the more wild things I find that are edible. The morel mushroom is a standout. Black walnuts are awesome. And I love stopping the car at the end of the driveway to hop out and pick a handful of blackberries on my way in from work. But I think I'll pass on the pokeweed.

Click here to see more Nature Notes.


Nicole said...

Now, that's one highly interesting post.
We have that stuff around here too, but I never figured what it is. Now I don't know only that, I even know that you can eat it (at a certain point - or poison someone ;) ).
I've never seen the variegated version here though.
Thanks for the educating post :)!!

bird said...

I think I'll be passing on the pokeweed dishes myself! It's a really strange looking plant, looks like something that was bred as an ornamental garden plant even though I guess it's native? We don't get pokeweed in the UK so luckily we don't have newspaper stories about people getting it wrong and poisoning themselves with it - leave that to the poisonous mushrooms and the hemlock!

Greyscale Territory said...

A very interesting plant! New to me totally! Love learning info like this!

MyMaracas said...

Nicole, I think it's in most places in the U.S., but probably isn't noticed much outside the south, where people eat it.

Bird, it does look suspiciously ornamental, doesn't it? I do wonder if it's some kind of hybrid that escaped a garden, although I have never heard of anyone deliberately growing pokeweed. Pokeweed is a native plant, and I have to think this is just a "sport"/mutant.

Greyscale, glad you liked it!
Thanks for stopping by.

Sallyacious said...

Mmmm... Fresh blackberries. When they're so ripe they explode in your mouth is one of the best summer experiences EVER.

That varigated pokeweed is a gorgeous plant.

Marju said...

Beautiful flower!!

Unseen Rajasthan said...

Very interesting !! Great too..Thanks for sharing..Unseen Rajasthan

ramblingwoods said...

You have to boil the toxins away before you eat it? No thanks. I just got a wildflower guide and was thumbing through it and saw poison ivy and thought.."Gee, it would be good to know what this looks like". Great post for Nature Notes Vicki... Michelle

MyMaracas said...

Sally, that's a perfect description of the joy of blackberry eating. You're a girl after my own heart.

Marju, it is attractive, isn't it? Huge and poisonous,but attractive. I'm adding to my list for that weed garden I'm planning.

Raja, it's not nearly as spectacular as the things you find to photograph, but I'm glad you liked it.

MyMaracas said...

Michelle, yes, you have to boil it -- not once, but twice. And some say you have to add salt to the first water.

Think of it as blowfish for vegetarians.


JOHN said...

Interesting entry.I agree with some of the others .i dont think I'll be eating something I have to boil the posion out of.Thankyou for stopping by my blog.Your welcome anytime..Yes the portague festa was fun.I added myself as a follower to your blog. Have a great weekend

MyMaracas said...

Thanks for adding me to your follow list, John! Hope to see you again soon.