Phytolacca americana L.


Phytolacca americana plant

Family - Phytolaccaceae

Stems - To 3m tall, erect, glabrous, greenish to purple-red, branching, herbaceous.

Phytolacca americana stem

Leaves - Alternate, entire, oblong, lanceolate-oblong, or ovate, petiolate, up to +30cm long, +15cm wide.

Inflorescence - Axillary racemes to +/-40cm long. Pedicels to 1cm long, 4-angled, tuberculate on angles, subtended by curling bract. Bract to 4mm long, 1mm broad. Pedicel with two small attenuate bracts alternate about at it's midpoint. Axis of inflorescence and pedicels whitish in flower, becoming red in fruit.

Phytolacca americana flowersPortion of inflorescence.

Flowers - Apetalous. Sepals 5, white or with a pinkish tinge, distinct, 2.2mm long and broad, slightly involute, broadly ovate to rotund, entire or slightly erose near apex. Stamens 10. Filaments pinkish-white, 2mm long, glabrous. Ovary 10-carpellate, green, globose to subglobose, 2.4mm in diameter, glabrous. Fruit a purple-black berry to -1cm in diameter.

Phytolacca americana flowerFlower close-up.

Phytolacca americana fruitsFruits.

Flowering - May - October.

Habitat - Waste ground, disturbed sites, open woods, pastures, prairies, roadsides, railroads.

Origin - Native to U.S.

Other info. - All parts of this weedy species are toxic when mature but the young shoots and leaves can be eaten when cooked. Why take the chance when there is a grocery store on every corner? The "ink" from the berries will stain almost anything it touches.
This is an easy species to ID in the field because of its big, alternate leaves, reddish stems, long inflorescences, and purple berries.

Photographs taken in the Ozark Scenic Riverways, Shannon County, MO, 6-24-03 and 6-29-03.