Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Bright red near the end of the year

with 26 comments

Here’s a new botanical red from the last month of the year: pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), whose stalks can be as richly colorful as anything in nature. On December 8th in Balcones District Park, after happily portraying the flowers on a new [to me] species of winecup, I spent time with this pokeweed plant that had even put out buds and a flower. If you look closely at the lowest lobe of the flower you’ll see what appear to be two insect eggs.

And speaking of entomology, the etymologist in me feels compelled to add that while it’s true you could get a poke from pokeweed if you’re not as careful as I was when I leaned through the branches of this bush to take my pictures, the poke in pokeweed is a different word. It comes from pocan, a dialectal version of a Virginia Algonquian term. In fact it’s the same word that has given us puccoon. That’s the true explanation; I’m not selling you a pig in a poke, which is yet a third unrelated poke in English.

☸︎

☸︎        ☸︎        ☸︎

☸︎

If you’ve never read “The Gift of the Magi,” by O. Henry (who lived in Austin), you should.
It’s only six pages long. Go for it.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

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Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 25, 2021 at 4:34 AM

26 Responses

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  1. I love the red

    beth

    December 25, 2021 at 5:30 AM

  2. I have always loved the red stem and leaves of the poke plant in autumn and winter. I am not sure I’ve ever taken the time to notice the pretty flower it puts off. One must be careful not to brush against the black berries it puts off – they burst fairly easy and the deep-red pigment will stain skin or clothing.

    Littlesundog

    December 25, 2021 at 6:50 AM

  3. I still remember the day I first encountered pokeweed. It was in the fall of 2016, and I was roaming the bottomlands near the Tallgrass Prairie. I had no idea what it was, but the stalks were this same brilliant red, and twice the size of my thumb.

    Locally, I finally came across the plant at the Artist Boat on Galveston Island. They surely are more common, especially since I know people who’ve eaten and enjoy ‘poke sallet.’ I just haven’t seen them. I’ve never found the plant in bloom, either, so this is a special treat.

    shoreacres

    December 25, 2021 at 8:32 AM

    • If I can generalize from a few examples, nature photographers seem to remember where they found various things, especially for the first time. I hope you come across some pokeweed with fresh flowers on it—in fact I hope the same thing for me. A few pokeweed plants grow in Great Hills Park; I just have to remember to go looking for flowers.

      That’s a good article you linked to. I remember the song mentioned in it, and I knew that poor people used to eat, and probably still eat, “poke sallet” for want of something better.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 25, 2021 at 8:52 AM

  4. I had to search for my photos of Pokeweed to see if it had red stems as gorgeous as yours. This one I identified as Phytolacca acinosa – related? A most unusual plant.

    Heyjude

    December 25, 2021 at 9:01 AM

    • I see the resemblance, and there’s red on some of the stalks in your picture. Here’s what I found out about Phytolacca:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phytolacca

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 25, 2021 at 9:10 AM

      • Yes, I noticed the red too. I know where there is a plant in Penzance so I need to pop down there and see what it looks like now (although maybe it gets cut back for the winter). Thanks for the link Steve. And happy Christmas to you and Eve.

        Heyjude

        December 25, 2021 at 9:29 AM

  5. Well, that makes a change from a poke of chips… 🙂 (In this case – Scots – the poke was a cone made of newspapers and this was sometimes used by chip shops. Recycling!) The red is a very Christmassy one – hope you and Eve are enjoying the holidays.

    Ann Mackay

    December 25, 2021 at 12:45 PM

    • The “poke” in “a poke of chips”—which I’d not heard of before—is also the one that’s in “a pig in a poke.” It’s the same word whose diminutive has given us “pocket.”

      Yes, the red is very Chiristmassy, no question. Happy Christmas to you, and let’s imagine that 2022 will bring the world better times.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 25, 2021 at 2:58 PM

  6. Reminds me of summer, when I see pokeweed flowering here. The brilliant reds and greens are perfect for today.

    tomwhelan

    December 25, 2021 at 9:00 PM

    • Those colors are why I scheduled this post for today. I think pokeweed normally flowers in the summer here, too. The last couple of months have been so mild that some normally earlier bloomers have flowered again now.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 25, 2021 at 10:53 PM

  7. I got ink from that stuff!

    tonytomeo

    December 25, 2021 at 9:39 PM

  8. I have read that story several times, and never without a tear in my eye.

  9. Bright beautiful red – thank you, Steve!

    composerinthegarden

    December 26, 2021 at 4:31 PM

    • You’re welcome, Lynn. I assume you’ve seen pokeweed in your area, as I did when I grew up on Long Island.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 26, 2021 at 5:04 PM

      • Oh yes, it is definitely a volunteer in my garden – I leave it in the wild areas for the birds, who love it.

        composerinthegarden

        December 26, 2021 at 5:09 PM

        • Good for you! The closest pokeweed I know to me is in Great Hills Park, about half a mile from home.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 26, 2021 at 5:11 PM

  10. O. Henry’s Christmas story always creates very mixed emotions, but there is no question that sadness is prevalent.

    tanjabrittonwriter

    December 26, 2021 at 5:40 PM

    • There’s a sadness, yes, yet as O. Henry says: “Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are the most wise. Everywhere they are the wise ones. They are the magi.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 26, 2021 at 5:46 PM

      • But being wise and being sad are not mutually exclusive. I imagine Della and Jim were smiling wisely through their tears; or crying through their wise smiles.

        tanjabrittonwriter

        December 26, 2021 at 6:04 PM


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