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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Bad Plant, Good Pictures

Here's a fairly common plant that everyone should learn to identify. It's poison hemlock, Conium maculatum. Yes, this is the hemlock that caused Socrates death.

It looks similar to wild carrot, but with a little careful observation you won't confuse the two.

poison hemlock

For one thing, this is much taller than the carrot (Queen Anne's Lace) when it blooms. These are just in bud, but they are about five feet tall. You should be looking at those tall stems with ferny leaves in the foreground. "In the foreground" is a bit troublesome to me. These were growing right beside a rail-trail, and it seems to me this plant is dangerous enough that the management authority should be killing it.

The leaves of poison hemlock are dark green and very fern-like. In fact, in the spring it comes up in a clump that looks very much like a fern.

poison hemlock

Here's one difference you can't miss. These stems get big and woody, and they are splotched with purple...maculate. What? You don't know that word? Sure you do. It's the opposite of immaculate, which means clean. (I know what it means even if my house never gets to that state.)

poison hemlock

It will get a large umbel of white flowers, just like the Queen Anne's Lace, and all the other carrot relatives. This one is just forming the head of buds.

poison hemlock

So many important food plants are in this family, the Umbelliferae (or Apiaceae): anise, carrot, celery, caraway, fennel, dill, parsley, parsnip, to name a few. But you sure don't want to mess with this one. A lot of plants get labeled poisonous that can give you a stomach ache, or diarrhea, and those aren't good. But this one is the real deal. Get the juice on your hands, and lick a finger, and it can kill you.

It likes poor or disturbed soil. It's often one of the first plants to grow up around construction sites. You're welcome.

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The Furry Gnome said...

Thank you! We have lots of it's non-poisonous smaller relative Wild Chervil, spreading like wildfire as it invades along roadsides and field edges.

John Sealander said...

Thanks for the information. This plant is common in Texas. I try to avoid even getting near it...

Secondary Roads said...

Info worth knowing. Thanks!

Ann Thompson said...

thanks for the info. I'll be sure to keep away from any I may encounter

vanilla said...

Now I'll be afraid to touch anything green. Try to avoid it anyway, but wife keeps serving salad and stuff anyway. Just kidding. If anyone is alerted to this danger by your post, then you have done a public service.

Lin said...


We planted rue a long time ago...and found out the hard way not to touch it in the sun. We all had burns on our arms and legs. :(