Phytolacca americana

Common Name:


Scientific Name:

Phytolacca americana

Alternative common names:

Pokeroot, pigeon berry, cancer root and umaheneni (Zulu).


Pokeweed is a herb that is native to eastern North America and cultivated around the world. It contains chemical substances such as phytolaccine, tannin and formic acid. All parts of the plant are poisonous when eaten, however the root is the most toxic.

Additional Information

Where does this species come from?

North America, south Asia, east Asia.

What is its invasive status in South Africa?

NEMBA Category 1b.

Where in South Africa is it a problem?


How does it spread?

The berries are spread via birds and humans. Commonly found in disturbed areas.

Why is it a problem?

The whole plant is poisonous, particularly the roots. Children have been poisoned by eating raw pokeweed berries and there have been some deaths. If swallowed, you may experience tremendous heart block, vomiting, low blood pressure and nausea.

What does it look like?

Leaves: Smooth, fleshy and shiny, egg-shaped, dark green, pinkish-green with pink veins.

Flowers: Whitish-green flowers produced in narrow, unbranched, nodding clusters at the end of stems.

Fruit/seeds: Berries are flattened, round in outline, green becoming black-purple at a later stage.

Does the plant have any uses?

Used to treat numerous conditions such as mumps, tonsillitis, swollen glands, bronchitis and constipation. An effective treatment for ulcers, bad breath and fungal infections.

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