Wild Flowers of Pittsburgh

Poke (Phytolacca americana)


In 1844, supporters of James K. Polk for president wore sprigs of poke on their lapels. It was a pun, you see. He won, so the plant bears some responsibility for the Mexican War. The plant is also known as inkberry, because the flowers are succeeded by black berries whose juice stains absolutely anything, and can indeed be made into a serviceable ink.


3 responses

  1. This historical fact is interesting for me because I write a bibliographic synthesis about this species. Could you give me a bibliographic link about the fact that “supporters of James K. Polk for president wore sprigs of poke on their lapels”.

    Thanks a lot in advance

    September 21, 2009 at 9:03 am

    • drboli

      A number of Internet sites mention the story, usually without reliable bibliographical data. Here are two:

      University of Wisconsin Arboretum

      Most interesting, because it’s contemporary evidence, is this auction report of an anti-Polk campaign banner:


      From the article:

      “The Clay Banner is much larger, 53″ x 100″, and is a colorful, hand-painted piece which also promotes Vice Presidential candidate Theodore Frelinghuysen and Markle, the Whig candidate for Governor. As appealing as a piece of folk art as it is as a political campaign artifact, it uses a play on words to lampoon the Democratic candidate, James K. Polk. It features several raccoons, which had become a Republican emblem during the 1840 election, climbing on and eating poke weed, a familiar berry-bearing weed.”

      It will be worthwhile to pore over some old history books to see whether any foundation for the story shows up. More to come shortly.

      September 21, 2009 at 7:15 pm

  2. This second link is interesting too ! I didn’t know that this species had played this symbolic role in this campaign. Thank you very much !

    September 29, 2009 at 6:24 am

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