As I walk around my gardens this week a weed catches my eye. It is Phytolacca americana, the pokeweed, and I love it. When we moved to Cape Cod and I saw it growing in the islands of our neighborhood I was instantly smitten. Bright green leaves, very pink stems, white flowers, and berries that are first green and then turn a black-purple. Stunning!
“Why isn’t everyone growing this in their gardens?” I thought. Once I planted one in my at-that-time small backyard, I found out. In the dry, infertile islands near our house this plant was a reasonable five feet tall and wide. But in fertile, irrigated garden soil, pokeweed grows huge. (Think large bush or small tree.) And when I tried to dig the monster out of my small flowerbed I discovered the secret to Phytolacca americana‘s success: a fat taproot that goes into the earth for, it seems, miles. When I tried to transplant it, the handle of the shovel broke before the taproot was disturbed.
Nevertheless, I still love this plant and now that I have space for it at Poison Ivy Acres, there are areas where I let a few thrive. So today I posted a photo of the now-showing-berries plant on Facebook and declared my fondness for this plant. Not only is it dramatic, but it’s native, the birds love the berries, and it looks beautiful in bouquets. Just don’t eat it…or know how to prepare the young shoots if you do. This plant is usually listed as being poisonous although you’d have to consume quite a bit to do yourself harm.
I was amused at the reaction to my Facebook post…it seems that some people hate Phytolacca americana. Vehemently. Ah well. As one commenter said, it’s an “eye of the beholder” kind of thing.
Still, since it’s Garden Bloggers’ You Can Grow That day, this got me thinking about how we view plants. This one is good, that one is bad. This plant is invasive, that one hard to grow. These flowers are pretty because they are pastels, those are not because they are a garish orange. Everyone has their likes and dislikes.
But sometimes it’s good to see plants with fresh eyes. That poison ivy that gave me the rash on my arm last week (thanks for fixing that, Zanfel!) is a plant that feeds a wild assortment of wildlife. And this pokeweed is loved by a few appreciative plant nerds for its oh-so dramatic presence. A fresh perspective? We can ALL grow that.