Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wildflower Wednesday: Sophie's Choice

I really should pay more attention to my calendar.  Not until yesterday did I realize it was already the fourth Wednesday of September, the day to celebrate Wildflower Wednesday hosted by the queen of natives, Gail of Clay and Limestone.

I have Sophie to thank for my entry for this month.  Despite all her good qualities, Sophie does like to explore a bit and has never quite mastered the command "Come," at least when I am uttering that word, especially in desperation.  (She obeys my husband, my children, my grandchildren--anybody but me; I guess she knows I'm really a pushover.)  During the summer her boundaries were clearly defined with dense soybean plantings bordered by tall corn surrounding our farm.  But now that the harvest is done, Sophie has discovered a whole new world to explore!  Apparently, there are all kinds of new scents and treasures to be found in the fields beyond our house.  This has meant on several occasions lately I have had to trudge across bean stubble (usually in PJ's; hope the neighbors don't notice) to convince her it's time to come home.

On one of these excursions last week I was walking behind the barn, a place I usually never go, and noticed these dark purple berries growing on a tall weed wildflower.  I have never, ever seen these before here, so out came the trusty Illinois Wildflowers book to see if I could find out what they were.  Sure enough,  there in the blue and purple blooms section was a photo that looked just like mine--Phytolacca americana,  better known as pokeweed or pokeberry.  I have heard of this plant before, but for some reason I associated it with the South.  Not so; according to my book, it is common throughout the state of Illinois, too.

"The leaves are smooth, up to 12" long and 3" wide, with long red stalks.  The small, greenish-white flowers are about 1/4" across, lack petals, but have 5 greenish sepals and from 5-30 stamens" (Kurz, Illinois Wildflowers).

The purple to black berries have a juice that stains and which has been used for coloring foods as well as a red dye and ink.  The berries are a favorite of birds.  The leaves of young plants are sometimes cooked and served as "poke salad"--remember the old song "Poke Salad Annie" ?  But since the root and stem are poisonous, I'm not sure I'd care to taste any poke salad:)

Pokeweed can grow up to 10 feet tall.  It's hard to tell perspective from this photo, but I can assure you that this plant extended several feet above my head, so it was at least 8, if not 10, feet tall.  Next to it are other weeds wildflowers just as tall, including an interesting white-flowering plant.

While I had intended just to focus on the pokeberry today, I was curious about this tall plant with the daisy-like flowers, too.  The only thing I can find in my wildflower book that looks similar is a False Aster, Boltonia Asteroides.  It can grow up to 6 feet tall, though mine is even taller.  If anyone can confirm this i.d. or suggest another possibility, I'd appreciate it.

While my garden could use more fall color, there is no shortage of four-season interest plants around the farm.   I just never know what I might find when I go out exploring the "back forty" with Sophie.

For more interesting looks at fall wildflowers, be sure to visit our enthusiastic hostess Gail of Clay and Limestone.


  1. That's a superb choice for WW. I can never seem to remember either.

    It's fun to find surprises like that on your property.

  2. I am so glad you're joining us for WW. I do love polkweed and secured more seeds~'Cause a Queen cannot have enough jewels of this caliber! xxgail

  3. I love pokeweed, it's so pretty. I wonder if your mystery ex-aster is the plant formerly known as Aster pilosus. It gets very tall. If it has hairy stems, then that's what it is.

  4. Oh Rose! How could I have missed it, the post I have so much looked forward to? I just spotted this one on my sidebar and eagerly rushed over only to have my hopes dashed by no mention of your visitors...and then the terrible truth dawned! I had missed it :( But my goodness, how I enjoyed catching up with it. It was lovely to see the photos of your visitors and I was glad to see that Cheryl was indeed wearing her shoes :)

    What a wonderful time you all had and so nice that the gentlemen enjoyed it too! How lovely too that the Hummingbird and the Monarchs put in an appearance, I am very envious about those!

    Anyway, all that aside I have enjoyed this post too and smiled at you fetching Sophie home in your pyjamas :)

    We don't have Pokeweed here but I just looked it up on Wiki and see it has had some interesting uses including the berries being used as ink by soldiers writing letters home during the American Civil War and by aboriginal Americans to decorate their horses. A very interesting post!

  5. Loved the photo through the link chain. Great and those luscious looking berries( that I wouldn't know if they were safe to eat or not), are beautiful.
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  6. Those pokeberries must look amazing in reality towering so high above you. We don't have those growing in the UK.

  7. Rose, I recall the pokeberries from when we lived back east. When we were younger, we would pick them and paint pictures... what a stain.

    I think your yellow flower looks like Solidago... at least from this distance.

    Have a wonderful weekend. We are supposed to have a few warm days coming. Tomatoes, listen up!

  8. Sophie chose a very pretty 'wildflower' indeed!

  9. Your poke weed will return forever. They have such long thick roots. The birds will be happy about that. As to the asters. I don't ever even try to tell them apart. They all come under the name of white aster for me. Happy Wildflower Wedensday. Good for Sophie getting you outside more.I am sure she is just thinking of your health.

  10. I'm not sure what the mystery plant is...but the pokeweed berries are very nice! Glad you got some much-needed rain recently!

  11. I want a photo to go along with your chasing after Sophie in your pjs. LOL

    I love your pokeweed photos! I have one in my garden across the street, but it's not full sun, and is only 3 feet tall, which is what the others I've let grow have gotten. The reason I say, "let grow" is because there would be more of them if I let them and the other weeds do their thing, and I would have no room for a veggie garden. I almost went over to take a photo, but it was raining, and I already had enough photos.

    When I saw your other flower, I thought it looked like boltonia. I have a photo of mine on my WW post, but it's not a close up. I think I'll have a closer one on my Camera Critter post Saturday, and may even have one on last Saturday's post.

    By the way, Larry forgot to latch our back gate after he mowed a couple days ago, and a neighbor lady came to the door after her escape. She'll go out every time she gets a chance. One of these times, it will be animal control that catches her, and she'll go right up to them if they call her. I bet she'd love to join Sophie in the fields.

  12. At first I thought this was an elderberry bush - just in season right now so we are making some elderberry gin for Christmas.

  13. I remember as a child people eating Poke salad. They cooked it like collard greens. Personally I never wanted to try it.

    Also I remember kids throwing the berries at each other.

    Hope you have a great weekend Rose.

  14. Rosey, this pokeweed really was a surprise; if I hadn't seen the berries, I never would have known what it was.

    Gail, I've really enjoyed being part of WW! I seem to learn something new every month. And yes, these berries would be fit for a queen:)

    MMD, As soon as the rain stops--yay!--I'll have to go out and check the leaves on the ex-aster.

    Songbird, Thanks for the interesting info on pokeweed ink--how cool that it was used by the Confederate soldiers and aborigines! I'm so glad you found my last post; I knew you would be interested. Now, I'm going to have to find out what the story is behind Cheryl's shoes:)

    Maggie, I think the berries are poisonous, too, to humans, but they do look delicious, don't they?

    Rosie, The berries remind me of the photos I've seen of elderberries. But I wouldn't trust making wine with these.

    Di, I'm sure your mother must not have been too happy with your artistic ventures with pokeweed:) I threw in the last photo of the goldenrod, because I thought it was pretty cool; it's the possible aster in the previous photo that I'm not sure about.

    Tina, Sophie is actually more interested in the birds that frequent the berries:)

    Lisa, You're probably right that Sophie just wants me to get a little more exercise:) It's just bean stubble isn't the most comfortable ground to walk on.

    Rose, It's raining again today--what a difference it has made in my garden!

    Sue, There will be no photo of me in my ratty blue robe or pjs:) I saw your boltonia, and yes, my plant does look very similar. I think weeds/wildflowers grow where they're happiest; if I had purposely planted this pokeweed, I'm sure it never would have gotten this tall. Sophie loves having company, so Heidi is welcome!

    Denise, Thanks for stopping by! The poke berries do remind me of elderberries, but I don't think they're safe for wine-making. Elderberry gin? Sounds interesting.

    Susie, Somehow I wouldn't trust cooking something that might be poisonous, and yet I eat rhubarb, which has poisonous parts as well. I bet those berries stained!

  15. we've got all those growing in our yard too. lots of pokeweed, and lots of those white flowers and yellow rod looking things growing at the edge of the woods. it's nice color :)

  16. Dear Rose,
    I grow Pokeberry for the birds. I think it is very beautiful! I am looking forward to making ink! My husband does think it is invasive....I never mind.
    I also go outside in my slippers and nightdress.......

  17. Hi Rose, thank goodness for Sophie's newfound freedom! I can imagine you out tip toeing through field stubble in your jammies. Hope you are wearing boots though! Pokeberry is a fine plant, just a bit large for most home gardens, but perfect for hedgerows along property lines or behind barns. :-)

  18. Pokeweed is such a beautiful plant Rose. It appeared a couple of years ago in the back of our neighbor's yard. It's a good spot for it. but I'm keeping a watchful eye on it.It does seem to be spreading back there at a pretty rapid, even a bit alarming rate.

  19. I remember Poke Salad Annie! It does sound a bit risky though.

    It also sounds like you've been letting Sophie read about George's escaping exploits!

  20. Poke weed is a new one for me Rose - but I can see why it's great for the birds. You can add me to the list of ladies venturing out to their gardens in their robes - I did it myself this morning as the light was so beautiful.

  21. Rose girl ! I finally made it over here : ) I love those shots of the berried ! .. I bet they can stain is right .. did Sophie brush against any of them and have red polka dots ? LOL
    My Sophie this morning was running to catch her cat cookies(she has to exercise,vet's instructions!)
    Yes we have the wild asters and loads of Goldenrod .. but now I am waiting for the trees to really show off : )
    Soon we will hit the road and I will take pictures on the fly : )
    Great "wild" post and I envy your country spot !

  22. Great weed I mean wildflower choices Rose. lol Sophie is a great garden assistant I see. ;)

  23. Rats. I forgot about Wildflower Wednesday, thinking it was NEXT week. I enjoyed this post--pokeweed doesn't grow here in Nova Scotia, but I did see it in Ontario at the Royal Botanical Gardens and was quite fascinated by it. As you say, you never know what you'll find when you go exploring.

  24. I love the wildflowers "back east"---what we have here in the southwest can be quite lovely but the flowers tend to be smaller and on more "scraggly" looking plants. (The narrower leaves, as you probably know, keep the plant from losing so much moisture to transpiration.) But the wetter climates lend themselves to more mold, which triggers my asthma. Oh, I do love the mountains & vistas of the west, but the birds and flowers "back there." Lovely work!

  25. I've run into a lot of pokeweed this fall. It certainly puts on quite a show.

  26. I love pokeberry and there is a variegated one out there which looks great in containers. Also loved your previous post on garden visitors. There is nothing better is there? Please come visit someday. The room is ready.

  27. We have LOTS of pokeweed here. I leave it at the edges of the gardens. The berries are beautiful and the birds love them!

  28. Rachel, Some people would probably call all of these weeds, but they do add some fall color.

    Sherry, Making your own ink from pokeberries sounds like fun!

    Frances, I usually wear my garden shoes out in the field and watch my step:) I'm ok with the pokeberry as long as it stays behind the barn!

    Linda, I would imagine this plant wouldn't be too welcome in a small garden, especially if it spreads.

    Liz, I'm beginning to think Sophie has read about George's exploits--today she went across the road! That's rather dangerous here, though, so she is in a timeout now:)

    Amy, Luckily, none of my neighbors are too close, so they don't usually see me, unless I'm traipsing across the fields in pursuit of Sophie.

    Joy, Thankfully, Sophie isn't polka dotted:) She does need her exercise, too; we're both having trouble keeping our girlish waistlines:)

  29. Racquel, Sophie loves to "garden." I think she is more of a help in giving me exercise, though:)

    Jodi, In bloom, it looks lovely, but the rest of the year it's pretty weedy-looking.

    Marie, Our area is certainly conducive to weeds/wildflowers. I love to visit the Southwest--in the winter!

    Pat, This was a new plant to me; the berries really are pretty.

    Layanee, Thanks for the invitation! Be careful; I might take you up on this one day:)

    Sweetbay, Since my pokeweed is behind the barn, I can't see the birds eating it, but I would imagine they enjoy these berries.

  30. My Bart is selectively deaf as well - too many squirrels and chippies to pay any attention to me. I know that we have pokeweed growing here as well on the north shore of Lake Ontario - i.d.'d it for someone - although I've never been fortunate enough (or I guess had enough room) to have it growing in my garden. The seeds are splendid though - whenever I see something as lovely I always wonder if there's something I'm willing to part with to make room....

  31. Hi, Rose;
    The pokeberry has a nice look to it but I guess if it's poisonous that salad wouldn't be high on my list.

    My Bad Dog has always interpreted 'come' as 'run away!' Hence, his name. :D

  32. Rose quite the delicious looking berry! I surely would pig out if I were a bird! They resemble a nice ripe blueberry!
    I shall keep my camera handy and perhaps take part in this fun of posting wildflowers! They are so beautiful this time of year!
    It is good to be back posting and visitin all my blog friends! hugs

  33. Yep, That is Poke Salad in the South! Pretty daisy like flower you have there...

    So you are a push over where Sophie is concerned. Thats okay, my Saint is also where the kitties are concerned. They only seem to listen to me but in the Saints mind, cats are cats and do what they want and not what us humans want. Ha, my girls listen to me just not him. LOL....

    Have a great day!

  34. I love wildflowers! The pokeberries are stunning -wonderful color.

  35. Great photos and post, Rose. Happy October gardening :)

  36. I too love pokeweed; its berries are so colorful. I also like the shot of the goldenrod thorugh the chainlink fence. Artsy!


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