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Niagara-on-the-Lake
Saturday, November 26, 2022
Ask the expert: Is this weed dangerous?

Lake Report reader Cynthia Rand wrote our master gardener Joanne Young with a question about a weed she found in her yard and she sent along a photo of it:

Cynthia's  question: “A very interesting plant appeared last year in my garden, about four feet high, a very red stalk, long oval pointed leaves and a columnar shaped group of red berries. I did dig it up and the root was shaped like that of a parsnip. 

A few seedlings appeared in another part of the garden so I guess it will spread. If it is innocuous I’ll tend it because it was attractive, but if it is one of those poisonous invaders, maybe we had better warn people.”
 

Joanne Young's answer:  “Thank you for your good description of your mystery plant. Even before I saw the photo, I figured that your mystery plant was Indian (or American) Pokeweed.  

Your photo confirmed that is exactly what it is. Although pokeweed can cause severe poisoning in humans, livestock and pets, Indigenous people once used this plant as a heart stimulant and as a narcotic.

The plant also contains a protein that has been shown to have a positive impact on HIV, a precursor to the AIDS virus. Because all parts of the plant are poisonous, I would highly recommend that you get rid of it especially, if you have kids or grandchildren visiting your garden.”

Cynthia's response: “Pity! It is rather attractive and it is native, but I do have a five-year-old grandson. Thank you. I am very impressed with your quick recognition.”