Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Maritime Pokeweed - Phytolacca rigida   Small
Members of Phytolacca with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Family Phytolaccaceae
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DistributionScattered throughout the coast from the VA border to the SC border, barely ranging inland to Beaufort County.

This is a Southeastern species of coastal regions. It occurs from southeastern VA to FL and west to TX.
AbundanceUncommon to infrequent very close to the coast, very rare farther inland. This species was once tracked as Significantly Rare by the NCNHP, but it has since been moved to the Watch List. They list it as W7 (rare but poorly known), but it is reasonably well known, and W1 is a better status. Note that NatureServe does not treat it as a full species.
HabitatThis is a distinctly coastal species in the state, in both dry and moist ground. It can grow on dunes and sand flats, along sandy margins of maritime forests and shrub thickets, but also along moist edges of tidal marshes. Rarely it grows on xeric sandhills near the coast.
PhenologyBlooms from May to frost, and fruits in the fall.
IdentificationThis species is quite similar to P. americana in overall growth form, being robust and to 6-9 feet tall, with a thick stem. The leaves are large, alternate, and often 6 inches long and much narrower. However, in this species the flower clusters -- racemes in leaf axils -- are erect and shorter than on the common species, being about 6-9 cm (averaging about 3 inches) long, as opposed to 10-20 cm (averaging about 6 inches) long in the common species. In the common species, the raceme -- perhaps in being much longer, grows horizontally and then droops in fruit; on the other hand, P. rigida has this raceme erect both in flower and in fruit, rarely divergent. It has dark purple berries, as does the common species. Based on these keys, it seems that -- until the racemes are seen in summer -- you might not be able to determine which species is which along the coast. At any rate, by midsummer into fall, you should be able to identify this uncommon species.
Taxonomic CommentsMost references do not consider this as a good species, instead usually naming it as P. americana var. rigida; NatureServe follows this treatment. Weakley (2018), which this website follows, does treat it as a good species.

Other Common Name(s)None?
State RankS2
Global RankG5T5 [G5]
State StatusW7 [W1]
US Status
USACE-agcp
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