Friday, October 12, 2012

For the Birds

My daughter-in-law, the environmental educator, came through with an identification of the plant pictured in yesterday's post.  Here is what she wrote:

You have native pokeweed.  The young spring leaves are edible when cooked, the berries, older leaves and stalk are all very poisonous.  The taste is likened to that of collard greens.

Pokeweed berries crush purple and dry tan.  Early settler children used to make an ink out of the berries in the summer.  Birds like American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, Mourning Dove, Gray Catbird, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Cardinal, Great-crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Phoebe, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, European Starling, Brown Thrasher, Cedar Waxwing, Red Fox, Virginia Opossum, Raccoon, and White-footed Mouse all eat the berries.  This fact is exactly why I teach kids that you can't just watch the wildlife to see what's edible and safe for humans to eat.  Oh...and expect purple poop from your birdy visitors!

It's not a highly aggressive plant and depending on what you want to do with your space, you can tame it and have it there for a nice native addition that will attract birds.

It's so nice to have a reliable resource in the family.  I grew up in NYC and have a very limited knowledge of my natural environment up here in the suburbs.  Armed with this knowledge, I will try and establish this plant above the retaining wall.  It is really quite pretty both in flowering  and fruiting stages.  And I quite like the notion of providing a native food source for the local birds.  We do get robins, mockingbirds, mourning doves and cardinals at the bird feeders and this could make a nice supplement to the seed I put out.  I'll risk the purple droppings if I can add a little variety to the diet of my backyard birds.  And I wouldn't complain if the plants attracted a few more unusual visitors to my bird feeders.  I love watching the birds and am always excited when I spot a new-to-me species.


Cynthia said...

Riona,I have these berries in my backyard as well and have wondered about them. Actually, I was thinking about trying to dye a fabric using the berries. Thought the color would be great. And as for what the birds leave behind, yes, I will attest to it as my car is white with purple spots.

rosey175 said...

Oooh, I've never seen pokeweed before. Now that I have something to compare, the berry clusters do look different from the elderberry; sorry about that! Today, I learned. :D

Apparently they can make a dye... will you try?