There is a plant that interests me as much in the depths of winter, as when it’s green and juicy. One of the last weeds still standing, gangly Pokeweeds’s bleached skeletons rear up along the forest edge, offering a few shriveled berries to animals sheltering there.
As a former visual artist and botanical illustrator, I also dabbled in darkroom photography for a few years. Sometimes in the depths of winter when the landscape is drained of color, I get the urge to use black and white again. ( 12/9 Liquid Frozen ). One late afternoon last week, the light playing on the wasted stems of winter weeds was just right for photography- soft and luminous with no harsh shadows.
In our color saturated world of images, the intentional use of black and white may seem as perversely retro as records on turntables. But I think it still has a place – as a way to hone down a subject, enhance a feeling sensed by the photographer. The art lies in expressing that original sensation – which thankfully can now be done with a simple photo editor. These pics started as ordinary color images, and were whittled down in an attempt to capture what first caught my eye.
Much like bl & wh photography, Pokeweed gets mixed reviews. A Google search turns up all the different ways to kill it, as well as pleas from bird lovers to let it stay. There’s no doubt it’s a berry bounty, with long dangling racemes each holding thirty or more juicy dark purple fruits. That’s a lot of weight for a non-woody stem. In fact, looking at the winter limbs, one can see how the branch structure is adapted just for bearing this heavy load, and dangling it out where birds will notice.
The secret to Pokeweed’s architectural strength appears to be its unique branching angles, forking this way and that, but somehow balancing out strong and stable. I’ve never seen a Pokeweed branch break under it’s berry load.
This frost-split stem shows another Pokeweed attribute – chambered pith. Rather than a continuous spongy pith, inside the mostly hollow stem are rows and rows of little clear circles, whose exact purpose I could not discover. Apparently walnuts and some other fast growing plants share this unique trait.
As we move toward spring, the last standing wrecks of Pokeweed are falling to frost, wind, and trampling deer. Soon, fat clusters of lurid green shoots will nose up from the wreckage. I can’t wait to see it.