Are American Pokeweed Berries Poisonous?

A garden expert answers questions about American pokeweed. Find out if this shrub is a native plant and if pokeweed berries are poisonous.

Are Pokeweed Berries Safe to Eat?

14 Sharynmadison Bbxnov18 PreviewCourtesy Sharyn Madison
American pokeweed berries

“Can you identify this berry-producing shrub that appeared in my backyard? Are the fruits bird-friendly?” asks Sharyn Madison of Cortland, New York.

Melinda Myers: These beautiful mystery berries are the fruit of American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana). A visiting bird likely passed along this plant. Pokeweed berries are eaten by a variety of songbirds that hang out in thickets and woodland areas, as well as mammals, including raccoons, opossums and gray foxes. You may also find that several flies, some wasps and Halictid (sweat) bees frequently visit the flowers. However, the berries are poisonous to humans. All parts of the plant are toxic if not consumed at the right stage of growth or prepared properly.

Plant Gin Fizz Juniper for a bush bursting with berries.

Where to Find a Pokeweed Plant

13 Lindakuehn2 Bbon22Courtesy Linda Kuehn
Humans should not eat the poisonous berries.

Look for these plants growing in open woods, damp thickets, clearings, roadsides and disturbed sites. Pokeweed is native in much of North America (except for certain western regions), from Ontario to southern Quebec, New England and New York, west to Minnesota and south to Florida, Texas and Mexico, Melinda says.

Attract more birds with a silky dogwood shrub.

Wildlife Benefits

Shutterstock 2056368152Shutterstock / CEW
A gray catbird sitting in an American pokeweed bush

Gray catbirds and northern mockingbirds love pokeweed, but be careful where you plant it, as it is invasive in some regions.

“My birds give pokeweed two thumbs up!” says reader Ginger Brandt of Columbia, South Carolina.

Plant a black chokeberry shrub for berry-loving birds.

Backyard tip: Weeds torment many backyards, and simply seeing weed in a name may make you run the other way. But some plants, such as milkweed and sneezeweed, are often beneficial to wildlife and definitely worth a second look at the garden center.

Next, find out if milkweed is poisonous to people and pets.

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Lori Vanover
Lori Vanover is the senior digital editor for Birds & Blooms. She has a bachelor's degree in agricultural and environmental communications from the University of Illinois. Lori enjoys growing vegetables and flowers for pollinators in her backyard gardens. She also is an avid bird-watcher.