Native to the eastern United States, and common in the east, southeast, and southern states, but sporadically occurs to California as well, where it is widely distributed.
It is grown as a garden ornamental, but escapes to become an invasive plant in orchards and vineyards, as well as wooded areas.
This is a perennial, herbaceous plant, but grows up to 10 feet tall and resembles a small tree. Fresh leaves and roots are very toxic, containing triterpene saponin phytolaccin, but if the foliage is cooked is can be eaten. Berries also are toxic and have caused human poisoning, but birds feed on them with no ill effect. The berries and foliage generally are unpalatable due to bad taste and smell.
Mature plants are from 3 to 10 feet tall with extensive branching. Stems are smooth and are dark green or purplish. The leaves are alternate, lance-shaped, and on long petioles. Leaves may be up to 12 inches long and 4 inches wide. There is a large, fleshy taproot that is white inside.
Flowers are small, white, and borne in long, open clusters on long petioles that may have a red color to them. Each flower is on a long petiole. The berries that form begin green and turn dark purple-black, and when crushed will produce a large amount of red juice.
Characteristicts Important to Control:
A perennial with a strong taproot. Reproduction is from seeds spread commonly in the droppings of birds that have fed on the berries.