American Goldfinch on mature pokeweed in late-June.
Poke Weed (often written as "pokeweed") is found from Maine to Minnesota and from Florida to Texas. It grows along roadsides and is an especially common weed in the hedgerows where we work our terriers.
The name Poke Weed comes from the Virginia Indian word for the plant -- "pokon" -- which in turn was derived from the Indian word "pak" which means blood. In pre-Colonial times "Pokon" was the term used for any red-juiced plant used as a stain or dye, and today Pokeweed is sometimes called "stain berry," poke berry," or "stain weed".
Though a mature pokeweed plant is the size of a small tree, the thick stems are hollow and very easy to cut. The berries are eaten by raccoon, possums and birds, but the roots are poisonous to pigs and other animals that try to root them up and eat them.
Pokeweed is usually confined to waste areas, but a tall mature plant is an indication that the soil has not been disturbed for three our four years, as it takes about that long for the roots to grow enough to support a full-grown plant which will stand about 7 feet tall or more.
Derivatives of the lowly pokeweed have been found to contain an antiviral protein that could be the most effective agent yet to inhibit HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Pokeweed antiviral protein (PAP) inhibits HIV from replicating in human cells. PAP also inhibits replication of the herpes simplex virus, among others.