Elderberry vs Pokeberry – How to Tell Them Apart

Do you know the difference between elderberry and pokeweed? They are two very different plants, and it’s important to be able to tell them apart. Elderberry is a delicious fruit that can be eaten when cooked and used in recipes. Pokeweed, on the other hand, is poisonous! In this blog post, we will discuss how to identify elderberry and pokeweed and tell them apart.

Sambucus Canadensis and Sambucus Nigra both edible after cooking
Elderberries – Note the Jagged Edges of The Leaves

Elderberry vs Pokeweed – Easiest Way To Spot Differences

The easiest way to tell elderberry and pokeweed apart is by their berry formations and leaves. The berries on the plants grow in very different formations. Elderberries tend to grow in more of a round cluster, while Pokeberries grow in a straight line, either horizontally or vertically. Pokeberry groupings tend to have a “corn on the cob” type shape to them. Pokeberries also tend to have a more structured look to their berry groupings, unlike elderberries.

Pokeberry leaves have smooth edges and are not jagged (though they often wilt on the edges). Elderberry leaves have a very jagged edge which you can feel with your finger and easily identify.

image of phytolacca americana (pokeweed)
Pokeberry – note the smooth edges on the healthy leaves and corn on the cob shape of berry growth

If you are not sure which plant is which, it is best to err on the side of caution and avoid eating any part of them. Pokeweed leaves are poisonous if eaten raw, and all other parts of the plant (including the berries) are poisonous whether they are cooked or not.

What Does a Pokeweed Plant Look Like?

 Pokeberry non-edible

Pokeweed flowers are pink/white and have 5 petals. The flowers grow in clusters at the end of the stem, and the berries will start to form as the flowers die off. The plant can grow up to 12 feet tall if given the right growth conditions. These are generally easy-growing and free from most common diseases.

More Images of Pokeweed

Here are a few more images of pokeweed. I personally took these photos when I noticed pokeweed growing in my own backyard! 

Click on the images below to expand them.

Elderberry or Pokeberry – What Are The Similarities?

Although these plants are different, there are some similarities. Both plants have blueish berries and are connected by a vine-like structure. They also both have similar-sized leaves and love to grow alongside rivers with good soil.

What Do Elderberry Flowers Look Like?

Elderberry Flowers

Elderberry flowers are generally white and have five petals. The flowers grow in clusters, and the berries will start to form once the flowers die off. The leaves of the bush have jagged ridges and are not smooth. They have visible veins running across the top of the leaf that end before they hit the jagged edges on the side of the leaf.



What Is Pokeweed?

Pokeweed (also known as phytolacca Americana) is a poisonous plant that is native to North America. It can be identified by its pink/white flowers and smooth leaves. The berries of the pokeweed are reddish-blue and are poisonous. Pokeweed has been used in ancient cultures and by Native Americans to induce vomiting and bowel movements due to its toxic effects on the body. While the plant is known to be toxic, some people believe it has potent anti-viral effects, but this has not been proven.

Where Do Elderberry and Pokeberry Grow?

Elderberry and Pokeweed grow in North America. Elderberry is commonly found in the eastern and midwestern United States, while pokeweed can be found in the eastern, southern, and midwestern United States.

Pokeberries thrive in dry, fertile soils in areas will full and partial sun. Other common habitats include disturbed areas, open woodland areas, dry areas, fences, and roadways.

Elderberry grows well where the soil is damp such as near rivers and creeks, in road ditches, and in places where water collects in the soil.

Is Pokeweed The Same As Elderberry?

No, pokeweed is not the same as elderberry. Elderberry is a delicious fruit (when cooked) that can be used in recipes. It also safely provides health benefits such as antiviral and immune-boosting effects. Pokeweed, on the other hand, is poisonous! Refer to the pictures above when trying to distinguish them from each other. It’s not uncommon to hear stories about pokeberries accidentally labeled as Elderberries at farmer’s markets or other local events.

What is the Difference Between Elderberries and Pokeberries?

The difference between elderberries and pokeberries is that elderberries are edible when cooked, but pokeberries are always poisonous in any state. Some animals still eat pokeberries but have been known to act drunk afterward due to the berry’s toxic effect on their bodies.

What Else Looks Like Elderberry?

Some other plants that look like elderberry are the red chokecherry, Japanese honeysuckle, and Virginia creeper. These plants have similar leaves and flowers to elderberry, but they are not the same.

When Should You Use Elderberry and When Should You Use Pokeberry?

Elderberries should be used when you want to make a jam, jelly, or something edible, while pokeberry should only be used for decoration or identification purposes.

Do Birds Eat Pokeberries and Elderberries?

Bird Eating Berries

Yes, birds eat both pokeberries and elderberries. Pokeberries seem to get birds “drunk” after they consume them. This is because pokeberries are mildly toxic to them and very toxic to humans.


Learning to distinguish Elderberry vs Pokeweed is a common problem for gardeners and foragers. These plants have some similarities, but they are easily identifiable by their leaves and flowers. As previously mentioned, pokeweed is poisonous, so it’s important to know how to identify it. Elderberry is a safe and delicious fruit that can be eaten after it is cooked. When in doubt, it’s best to avoid eating any part of a plant you’re not positive about.