So this master gardener class, I actually finished the classroom work last May but you don’t get to graduate until the following winter after you complete 25 hours of volunteering and 25 hours of plant clinic where actual people come in with limbs, roots, desiccated leaves, berries, and various other garden/ weed items to have you either help them identify it, tell them how to get rid of it or tell them how to cure whatever may be wrong with it. That is a lot of anxiety for me. There could be any number of things that look similar. What if I recommend the wrong treatment? I’m telling you, I began to understand how doctors feel. Some of these plants are heirlooms or were someone’s great-great Aunt Martha’s plant and Must.Not.Die.
So I did manage to get through the plant clinic work. The volunteering was a lot of fun because it is nearly all outside, either pulling weeds, planting new seasonal plants or pruning, dead-heading. I did enjoy the weed pulling. It’s very therapeutic. Until one day.
I was under a canopy of shrubbery pulling out chamber bitter and various other noxious weeds when I spotted a poke weed. Unless you are from somewhere in the South you probably will not know what this is. Every part of this plant is toxic once it sets flower buds until the berries (juicy purple things that birds love and stain everything) are gone and the plant dies. Even then you should never try to eat it.
Called poke salad (pronounced poke salit, a song made famous by Tony Joe White, “Poke Salad Annie” written and recorded 1968 in Muscle Shoals, Alabama https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qz4DvG4bQ2o), humans sometimes eat the tender leaves in spring but must be very careful that no evidence of a flower stalk has begun to grow. I do not recommend this with or without flower stalks. Ever.
poke weed plant
So this plant had been there for a while. A few years maybe. It was doing no harm under this canopy. No one could even see it, not unless they crawled under to where I was which wasn’t likely. I was surprised it had even survived because these things take full sun, happily. And heat. No problem. So here is this plant and I had a time cutting through its stem but finally did and proudly emerged with it, casually tossing it onto the growing pile of weeds and debris to be discarded.
Silence descended on our little group. Figuring everybody was just too hot to talk I went back to my weeding.
Murray, an older gentleman whom everyone knows and loves wandered up. Suspendered, a sheen of perspiration across his brow he walked over to peruse the results of the work we’d done. I barely heard him, but did for sure hear, “I figured somebody’d pull out that pokeweed one day.”
I was mortified. Were it in my yard it would have been permitted to stay since it does attract any number of songbirds. But this was a public garden, highly manicured. And I was a novice. Unseasoned as to the particulars of what others’ preferences and habits are. Still, I learned a very important lesson that day. Sometimes a weed, especially one that shows grace in humility among refined, well-bred flora, are encouraged to stay.
Do Not Eat