Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)

Amber Waves Pygmy Goats
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This page contains information regarding a plant "known to be poisonous" to goats as well as other animals. This information was researched from various resources. Please note, that the author is not a botanist or specialist regarding plants. This information is posted for your reference and comparison purposes only.
A GoatWorld thank you to Jodi Waits for research assistance regarding this plant.

Pokeweed - Click for a full size image Pokeweed - Click for a full size image Pokeweed - Click for a full size image

Pokeberry, Pokeroot, Inkberry, Poke

Pokeweed is a tall (to 10 feet), smooth-stemmed, perennial herb with a large, fleshy taproot. Stems are succulent, purplish, and bear alternate, lance-shaped, shiny leaves with smooth, curled margins. The small, white to greenish flowers hang in long, drooping, grape-like clusters. Each flattened, spherical, green berry turns dark-purple or ink-black and usually contains 10 seeds. Pokeweed commonly grows on recently cleared land, in open woods, barnyards, pastures, fence rows, and roadsides.

Pokeweed is very pretty, but toxicity is low. The goats NEVER eat the berries or leaves, but they do rub their horns on the trunks/stalks. The birds love the berries, and it does not seem to effect them.

The Pokeweed is in the very corner of the fence. You can see that it grows very tall. The fence in the back is 8’ tall chain link fencing. Sometimes people confuse a variety of Nightshade with Pokeweed. The main difference is the color of the stalks and the height. All varieties of Nightshade only grow between 1-2’ in height. The stalks of Pokeweed are REDDISH- PINK, and Nightshade is generally green, some have a slight pink tint. They are also much smaller.

All parts, especially roots and seeds.

Animals do not voluntarily eat this plant unless there is no other forage available. If the animals are forced to eat pokeweed (especially if it has been incorporated into processed feeds), the primary signs relate to the irritant effects of the saponin toxins, in particular phytolaccigenin. Salivation, abdominal pain, diarrhea (which may become bloody) can be noted. Horses and ruminants do not exhibit vomiting, which is seen in humans, dogs, cats, and pigs. Signs usually resolve within a day or two. Only if large doses are consumed will the animal display more serious signs: anemia, alterations in the heart rate and in respiration, and in very rare cases, death.

Noted in the human literature but not well published in the veterinary literature is the mutagenic and teratogenic properties of pokeweed, that is the ability to induce mutations (and possibly cancer) and birth defects. For humans, even handling the plant is considered dangerous, so it would seem wise to not only prevent human contact with the plant, but animal contact as well. Despite this, the plant is eaten as a spring vegetable in the southern U.S. after cooking it first in several changes of water. Consumption of the plant is not advised.


All animals may potentially be affected.

Gastrointestinal irritation (colic, diarrhea which may be bloody). Rarely: anemia, possibly death. Birth defects and tumors may also be possible.

For gastrointestinal irritation, provide better feed and symptomatic care, and signs should abate in about 24 hours. Discard all feeds containing pokeweed, since the plant is never safe for consumption. For severely affected animals, or if it is known that a large amount was consumed, consult a veterinarian promptly for emergency care.

Reports are not clear, but consider pokeweed as unsafe in hay and other feeds.

Pokeweed should be removed from pastures and barnyards. Exercise caution when doing so, since the plant is toxic to humans as well. Good pasture management, with mowing and weed removal, will suffice in keeping pokeweed under control.

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