Common Names

Poison poke is sometimes called scoke, pokeweed pigeon-berry, and garget.

Plate XI

Poison Poke

Photo - F. Fyles.

Poison Poke.


It is a tall, stout, evil-smelling, perennial herb from six to nine feet high, with rich green foliage turning red in the autumn. The leaves are four to six inches long and two to three inches wide, petioled, pointed at both ends with entire margins. The veins start from the midrib and meet in scallops near the margin. The flowers are small, numerous in long racemes, with white calyx and green seed-vessel soon changing to the crimson calyx and deep purple berries of September and October. The seeds are black, brightly shining, arranged in a circle in the berry. The root is large, pale, dull yellow, with uneven ridges at intervals. In older plants, the branches of the root become massed together considerably, each branch being often more than three inches in diameter.


Poison-poke is native to Ontario. It is found on low ground and rich soil.

Poisonous Properties

All parts of the plant contain acrid and somewhat narcotic properties. The juice of the plant will cause skin irritation. The root is very poisonous; in it are found a toxic substance phytolaccotoxin, an acrid alkaloid phytolaccine, saponin, and other injurious constituents. The fruit is also extremely poisonous. The young leaves lose their acridity when boiled, and are sometimes used as spinach.

Animals Affected

Cattle have been poisoned by eating the fresh young shoots, in places where the plant is growing abundantly.

Human Poisoning

Most cases of human poisoning have been accidental, either in overdoses of medicine or in mistaking the root for that of horse-radish or parsnip. Fatal cases of poisoning of children from eating the fruit have been reported by Chesnut.


Poison-poke is a very powerful, although slow-acting emetic. Vomiting does not usually begin until after two or more hours. The symptoms are: nausea, vomiting, spasms, severe purging, and sometimes death from paralysis of the respiratory organs.

Remedy and Means of Control: Professional advice should be obtained. The plants should be grubbed out. If the roots and berries are not sold as drugs, care should be taken to destroy them entirely. Where cutting off would seem more practicable, coarse salt, carbolic acid, or coal-oil should be applied to the cut surface of the root to check new growth.