The Pokeberry Patch

An accident turns into one of the best spots in the yard

Table of Contents

Last spring, one of my father-in-law's "business-as-usual" burn piles got a little wild due to a flare up of gusty weather right after he really got it going. Luckily, my wife noticed that the flames were a lot higher than usual and was able to go and help him get it under control without much incident.

However, one patch of grass and the bottom of a few trees got pretty well scorched.

Img 3071 The freshly burned patch of grass and understory

I didn't think much of it at first, other than being a little disappointed that one of the trees got burned badly enough that it needed to be taken down, and that a lot of the new growth on a couple of young trees got taken out for the year.

For the first month afterwards nothing much happened, with our late Winter hanging in and not much new growth at all around the yard. Six weeks after the burn some small things were only starting to poke through. Looking at the photo now, I see some Muscadine, Hempvine and maybe Dollarweed and a few others coming up.

Img 4495 The beginnings of new growth starting to appear in the burned patch.

I focused on other parts of the yard once Spring really got going, until one I noticed on the last day of May, after getting home from Jukai, that the burned patch was flourishing beyond belief. Not only that, there was a bunch of Pokeweed growing!. I'd only found one (large) Pokeweed plant on the property at that point, and to suddenly see a half dozen plants growing together was great.

The more I looked, the more I found plants that I hadn't seen anywhere else -- Beefsteak plant, some new kind of tall Nightshade (that I would later find out was a rare species), Cuban jute -- and certainly not in this density. Since I'd lost some other small plants to the lawnmower and weed eater, I quickly taped off the area in the hopes to try to protect it -- just to see what else might come up in this newly fertile ground.

Img 5116 3 The flourishing patch, having grown up dramatically in the week or so I was away in California.
Img 5118 2 My orange tape, roping off the patch to hopefully save it from the lawnmower.
Img 5106 The eponymous Pokeberry.
Img 5114 2 The unique, musty-minty Beefsteak plant
Img 5112 2 A rare species of Nightshade, Solanum pseudogracile

The orange tape worked, and this accident became one of the most dense, diverse and thriving parts of the property in a matter of a couple of months. In the Fall, Dogfennel, Common and Late Boneset and other rare-for-here plants emerged, along with the incredible Scarlet-bodied Wasp Moths, which I'll have to write about more another time.

Img 8616 Pokeberry Patch in the Fall, with the Beefsteak Plant and Bonesets growing wild and tall
Img 8303 The thriving patch in the early Fall
Img 8604 One of the many amazing Scarlet-bodied wasp moths that came to nectar and collect toxins from the Boneset

Over the winter, I let things break down naturally for a while without any disturbances. I eventually decided to remove the Beefsteak plant remnants and try to discourage more of its growth in the patch specifically. It's not a native, and can get a bit weedy if left unchecked. From there I concentrated on removing other non-native species that could really impact the entire patch, namely Chinese Privet and Chinese Tallow.

I lined the patch with large fallen limbs from around the property, to establish a more natural border and finally remove my orange tape, and started stacking smaller branches around the back of the patch to establish another border, add some new kind of habitat for animals, and just sort of add some natural compost to the area instead of those sticks going into a burn pile.

Img 9616 The declining Patch later in the Fall
Img 2029 2 The Winter Patch after adding the tree limb border marker and piling some downed branches in the back

With the early Spring of 2023, so far the Pokeberry Patch has been exploding once again, with at least 40 species growing by mid-March. The privet and tallow are almost completely gone, at least for now, and I am working now to cut back the Blackberry before it gets too bad. The Blackberries are native, but we already have a couple of Blackberry patches around the property and it could quickly become another without some help.

Img 2961 The Spring 2023 Pokeberry Patch, with new growth of over 40 species starting.

If you have a little "waste" space somewhere that you control, just let it grow if you can. You really never know what might surprise you, and what you may learn from it.

This little patch, probably around 500 square feet, has turned into one of the most thriving and diverse areas of the yard in just a year of being allowed to grow wild after the burn. Who knows what it will be in a few more years, based on what's already started? I look forward to finding out.