Garden Detective

It’s pokeweed, not Pokémon, and it’s toxic

Those berries may be pretty but don’t eat them! That’s pokeweed and highly toxic.
Those berries may be pretty but don’t eat them! That’s pokeweed and highly toxic.

Experts tackle readers’ garden questions.

Q: Do you know the name of this plant and flower?

Becky Emert, Sacramento

Q: I bought some seeds from Amazon that were supposed to be straw flowers. When I planted them in the spring, this is what appeared. I don’t think the plant is a straw flower. Can you help me identify this plant?

Jeannie Suhmann, Galt

A: Both Becky and Jeannie have pokeweed.

“The purple fruits are pokeweed – like ‘poke salad Annie’ in the song,” said Ellen Zagory, public horticulture director at the UC Davis Arboretum. “Phytolacca americana is a weed here, but native in the southeast United States where it is sometimes eaten.”

Think twice before adding any of those greens to a salad. All of this plant is poisonous. In particular, those pretty purple berries can be deadly, especially to pets or small children.

“It’s extremely poisonous and needs special preparation to remove toxins,” Zagory said.

Pokeweed can reach 10 feet tall with leaves 12 inches long. It blooms in summer, producing these colorful (and dangerously tempting) berries in July and August. The berry clusters often are more than 10 inches long.

Pokeweed is a perennial, which means – once it’s established – it will grow back from the roots year after year. To eliminate this plant from your garden, you need to dig out the roots.

But remember to wear gloves while handling any part of this plant. It’s toxic through and through.

As for the other mystery plant, it’s much more benign.

“The red-pink thing is a crested form of Celosia or cockscomb, an annual grown for its showy flowers,” Zagory said.

Celosia, a member of the amaranth family, has become a popular cut flower, too. The blooms, which come in several bright colors, can last up to 10 weeks on the plant and many days in a vase.

Debbie Arrington

Garden questions?

Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties. Send questions to Garden Detective, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852. Send email to h&g@sacbee.com. Please put “Garden Detective” in the subject field and include your postal address. To contact UC Extension directly, call:

  • Sacramento: (916) 875-6913; 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Monday-Thursday
  • Amador: (209) 223-6838; 10 a.m.-noon Monday-Thursday; email ceamador. ucdavis.edu
  • Butte: (530) 538-7201; 8 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m. weekdays
  • Colusa: (530) 458-0570; 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Tuesdays; website: cecolusa.ucanr.edu
  • El Dorado: (530) 621-5512; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday-Friday
  • Placer: (530) 889-7388; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday-Thursday or leave a message and calls will be returned; website: pcmg.ucanr.org/got_questions
  • Nevada: (530) 273-0919; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday-Thursday or leave a message
  • Shasta, Tehama, Trinity: (530) 242-2219; email mastergardener@shastacollege.edu
  • Solano: (707) 784-1322; leave a message and calls will be returned
  • Sutter, Yuba: (530) 822-7515; 9 a.m.-noon Monday-Tuesday and 1-4 p.m. Thursdays
  • Yolo: (530) 666-8737; 9-11 a.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, or leave a message and calls will be returned
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