Stems. - In length from six to ten feet high; purple-pink or bright red, stout. Leaves. - Large, alternate, veiny. Flowers. - White or pinkish, the green ovaries conspicuous, growing in racemes. Calyx. - Of five rounded or petal-like sepals, pinkish without. Corolla. - None. Stamens. - Ten. Pistil. - One, with ten styles. Fruit. - A dark purplish berry.
Plate XXVII. Fruit. Pokeweed. - P. decandra
There is a vigor about this native plant which is very pleasing. In July it is possible that we barely notice the white flowers and large leaves; but when in September the tall purple stems rear themselves above their neighbors in the roadside thicket, the leaves look as though stained with wine, and the long clusters of rich dark berries hang heavily from the branches, we cannot but admire its independent beauty. The berries serve as food for the birds. A tincture of them at one time acquired some reputation as a remedy for rheumatism. In Pennsylvania they have been used with whiskey to make a so-called "port-wine." From their dark juice arose the name of "red-ink plant," which is common in some places. The large roots are poisonous, but the acrid young shoots are rendered harmless by boiling, and are eaten like asparagus, being quite as good, I have been told by country people.
Despite the difference in the spelling of the names, it has been suggested that the plant was called after President Polk. This is most improbable, as it was common throughout the country long before his birth, and its twigs are said to have been plucked and worn by his followers during his campaign for the Presidency.