In one of my past posts, I asked how to seed my 20 x 25 ft backyard. I had great results by following your recommendations. I also left 1 1/2 ft as a bare ground border, keeping it weeded by pulling anything that popped up. I want to use that for my organic gardening. This past summer I tilled in the grass clippings and vegetable peels from my kitchen.

I'm hoping that the ground will have time to decompose this over the winter, however, toward the end of spring I saw a number of big plants! The first one on the left now has purple berries on it. The one in the middle is a 4 foot giant that popped up out of the blue. It looks like a dandelion on steroids! The last one on the right looks like big crab weeds. Are they just that?

Any idea what these are? Can I eat them? Are they some kind of poison ivy? Can I just pull them and they'll be gone?

Click on pictures for full size view.

Purple berries 4 ft tall looks like crab weeds

  • 1
    Next time, could you please make at least two questions, so that in each we id exactly one plant? – Stephie Nov 23 '15 at 19:07
  • Hi Joseph! I made your pictures smaller because they were taking up so much room on the page it was harder to see the answers. If you click on them, they'll be just as big as they were. I then re-worded the question to match what I did to the pictures. I hope you don't mind. If you do, feel free to reject my edit and the question can be returned to its original form. Thanks! – Sue Saddest Farewell TGO GL Nov 23 '15 at 22:48
  • Perfect :) can you teach me how to do that. For future post – Joseph Wit Nov 23 '15 at 23:21
  • Would you say approximately where you are? Based on some context, I guess you are in Northeast or mid-Atlantic US? Approximate location is always helpful for identification questions. – hoc_age Nov 24 '15 at 3:21
  • I'm currently located in Brooklyn NY – Joseph Wit Nov 24 '15 at 3:23

The first photo is pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, a perennial plant native to North America. I would not recommend you eat this plant unless you know exactly how to prepare it to remove it's toxins. I like this plant as an ornamental myself.

The second and, I believe third photo, is spiny sow thistle, Sonchus Asper, and annual or biennial (sometimes a 'winter annual') plant not native to the US and usually considered a weed. It is different than prickly lettuce, Lactuca serriola, in several respects, but notably, it lacks spines on the underside portion of the mid-rib of the leaves, and has numerous florets (hence the dense fluffy seed heads), rather than just 12–20 in L. serriola. Also, he leaf bases are auriculate (with ear-like structures), whereas L. serriola are not. I have both species in my garden. Lactuca serriola is easier to remove, but more numerous. Sonchus Asper is harder to remove, because of the deeper roots, which unless removed, re-sprout. http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=1&taxon_id=200024556

For the third photo, I would not make a definitive ID based solely on this photo. But if they are the same as the one flowering in photo two, then I'm pretty confident on the ID.

Sow thistles are edible, but be careful of the prickles. http://www.eattheweeds.com/sonchus-sow-thistle-in-a-pigs-eye-2/

  • I think you might be right about Sonchus -- though L. serriola is rather similar. Spines on the underside are a primary distinguishing factor as you said -- @Joseph, can you confirm? However, L. serriola does also have clasping leaf, and I thought Sonchus was somewhat more "waxy" looking. More ID help on Lactuca and Sonchus. – hoc_age Nov 24 '15 at 3:48
  • There are a few species of Sonchus, and some are more waxy. But they are rather variable too. I am pretty confident on the ID, in that I have both in my garden (as well as dandelion), though they are a bit past right now. They are similar. The flower heads, though not completely clear, are also pretty indicative. Lactuca are rather sparse, and Sonchus is dense (with many more seeds). But for Total ID, I'd need really need to see it. I'm a Botanist... – Eric Deloak Nov 24 '15 at 17:02
  • Prickly lettuce, sow thistle, and dandelion are all in the Cichorieae Tribe of the Asteraceae. They all lack disk flowers (only ray flowers) in the floral head, and nearly all have milky sap (among other traits). That's why it's a bit difficult. Chicory is similar too (from which the tribe gets it's name), but they have blue flowers (chicory, though can also refer to other species with yellow flowers too, though not common garden weeds). Neither chicory or dandelion have prickles, which I can see in both photo 2 and 3. – Eric Deloak Nov 24 '15 at 17:30

I had been composing as @Escoce's answer came in; I disagree with some (more than comment would permit) so I'll continue composing...

Picture number one (with rounded leaves and purple/black berries) is indeed pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)... but... DO NOT EAT. It is very poisonous to humans, though there are some birds (which are not affected by the toxins) that eat them. This is a perennial with a taproot, so it can be kept at bay by persistent plucking with reasonable success.

I think the other two are prickly lettuce (Lactula serriola, not dandelion/Taraxacum nor dock/Rumex). In stark contrast to pokeweed, all of these possibilities listed for pictures 2 and 3 (lettuces, dock, dandelion) are quite edible, though do be careful with the prickly lettuce. :) All of these are also perennial taproots (with similar control possibilities), though they do tend to be quite persistent.

  • The second picture is dock and the third is either dandelion or chicory. Sorry if that offends, but that's what they are. – Escoce Nov 23 '15 at 3:09
  • @Escoce I disagree with dock, provided we are talking about rumex. They don't have such distinct "flowers", but bloom in little leafy/knotty thingies. Also, rumex has smooth or wavy leaf rims, not tiny spikes. – Stephie Nov 23 '15 at 5:56
  • Also disagree with dock. It is definitely prickly lettuce, and thank goodness too, because prickly lettuce is much easier to pull than dock. The third photo does appear to have several dandelions in it, though. – michelle Nov 23 '15 at 15:48
  • 1
    @hoc_age I'm from Germany, I simply feel safer if we use Latin names instead of language-specific ones (I have to look them up and translate). – Stephie Nov 24 '15 at 4:57
  • 1
    @hoc_age Nope. I mean the apparent texture all over the leaves (not the shape). If I compared them to a sheet of paper, this is like a rumpled one, and mine is like a smooth one. – Brōtsyorfuzthrāx Nov 25 '15 at 1:26

I have eaten the third one and effectively it's a dandelion (or lion tooth in my country). It tastes very bitter, but it has medicinal properties such as detoxification of the liver, and you can make honey using the yellow flowers. The whole plant is edible. If you want to remove it you have to extract it with all the root. You have to be very careful because the root is very fragile, so the soil has to be over-watered or you have to dig around the root in order to remove it. I have this book (Health through God's Pharmacy- Maria Treben). In it you can find more information about the dandelions and their healing properties, and also the honey recipe.

The second one is very similar to dandelion. I have never tried it, but the root has the same issues.


The first picture is poke weed. Great for purple ink from the berries. Leaves can be eaten if cooked thoroughly, but are otherwise inedible.

The second picture is dock. Not sure which kind, but most kinds are edible when cooked. They have lots of oaxolic acid (like spinach) and need to be cooked to be edible.

The third picture is one of two very different plants though they look quite alike. One is dandelion, which is quite good in salads when it's young and hasn't flowered yet. The other choice is chicory, which is also good in salads, but you need to make sure you have a good type of chicory before you eat it.

Prevention? Pull the weeds as they grow. The dandelion and chicory will need a weeding fork so you can get the whole taproot out. A weeding fork looks like a backward arrow fletching.

  • I have a lot of poke weed. I think it's pretty, and making purple ink sounds like a fun thing to do with the kids, but someone told me the plant and berries are poisonous to both people and animals, even to the touch. Are there different varieties, or was I just misinformed? Mine looks like the example in this question. Thanks! – Sue Saddest Farewell TGO GL Nov 23 '15 at 2:25
  • Poke is poisonous to eat. But is safe to touch, though I may not bathe in it. – Escoce Nov 23 '15 at 2:29
  • 2
    The entire pokeweed plant is toxic throughout (nearly) all of the growing cycle. Though possible to eat certain parts of the plant at very specific times, I highly recommend NOT eating ANY pokeweed ever (and I am a huge proponent of foraging in general). See more info and links in my answer. – hoc_age Nov 23 '15 at 2:54
  • 1
    That is definitely not dock. Unless you use that word to mean a different plant than I do. Dock is Rumex (lots of species), and in the Polygonaceae en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumex . It does not have showy yellow flowers with seeds that are carried in the air. They are not even closely similar. – Eric Deloak Nov 24 '15 at 17:09
  • And the last photo is not dandelion, though I would say it looks a bit like the leaves. But when I bring them up and zoom in on my graphics screen, I see prickles, which definitely are not present on dandelion leaves. Dandelion leaves are usually a bit more indented as well. I still go with my guess of Sonchus or sow thistle, as it's the one in bloom and the leaves look pretty much the same on both plants. – Eric Deloak Nov 24 '15 at 17:12

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.