Ornament Of Summer's End

The humble but beautiful pokeberry is on stage in Northeast Tennessee once more, adding its rich purple-black color to the landscape as it does each year as summer begins to fade. This cluster of mostly ripe berries is at the edge of a stretch of woods in Chuckey. Poke berries, toxic to humans and domestic animals, nevertheless are beautiful and attractive, and loved by birds and certain toxin-resistant wild creatures such as ‘possums. Preferring moist soil, poke is found in damp thickets, clearings and roadsides in most states. All parts of this plant are poisonous, especially the roots, seeds and mature stems and leaves. The young, tender leaves of poke plants can be eaten only as thoroughly cooked greens, with the water in which they are cooked being changed at least two times. The plant may turn out to be more than an early harbinger of fall and effective staining agent children’s hands and clothes. Some of the chemicals in the plant may have value in developing treatments for HIV and cancer, researchers say.

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