Friday, August 19, 2011

Grow your own birdfood

Pokeweed (Phytolacca Americana) Birds relish these berries

Behold the lowly pokeweed, one of the best "bird food" plants you can welcome into your garden. I say "welcome" because pokeweed pops up here and there in and around gardens and most people yank it out. As it grows, small pink-white flowers appear in summer on erect racemes, followed by thick spikes of fleshy, purple-black berries. Click on the photos above for a closer view. Once established, I think pokeweed is an attractive shrub.

Please note that the berries are toxic to humans but safe for birds and they do love them. Pokeberries attract many songbirds, including woodpeckers, waxwings, cardinals, bluebirds, and morning doves. They can persist into winter so it's important to leave the plants standing. They're also an important source of nourishment for migrating birds.

Other fascinating facts about pokeweed:

The Declaration of Independence was reportedly written in Pokeberry Ink made from the crushed dark purple berries, hence another name for the plant, Inkberry.

Poke is also known as: American Nightshade; Crowberry; Pigeon Berry; and Pokeroot. Although the leaves are poisonous, some people eat poke salad, which is made from the young poke leaves before the toxins develop. And if you've never heard the song, Poke Salad Annie, by Tony Jo White, click here to listen.

The recipe for Poke Salad calls for the cook to gather tender shoots of poke, considered a delicacy when only 3 or 4 inches tall, They can be cooked like asparagus but heed this warning from The North Carolina Cookbook: When preparing poke weed for consumption the first time, allow an experienced person to teach you what parts are safe to use and how to prepare it. If the wrong parts are eaten and pokeweed is not prepared properly, it can be poisonous to consume! It is important to use only the thick, succulent new growth (3 to 4 inches at the growing tips). The rest of the plant contains so much Vitamin A that it may be poisonous unless it is boiled in water 3 times (the water must be discarded 3 times to leech out the excess Vitamin A.)

I don't know about you, but after reading that, I think I'll leave poke to the birds.

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