Master Gardeners discuss Poison Hemlock, a common non-native plant on the Eastern Shore

May 2, 2022

This is Steve Rulison bringing you information on Shore friendly living and gardening from the Eastern Shore Master Gardeners and Virginia Cooperative Extension.  From my perch near the mouth of Occohannock Creek, I recorded 3-10ths of an inch of rain last week.

Poison Hemlock is an herbaceous biennial flowering plant in the carrot family, and a common poisonous weed in Virginia! It looks a bit like Queen Anne’s lace or Wild Parsnip, but can grow 6-10 feet tall and has stems spotted or streaked with red or purple. The leaves are finely divided and lacy, up to 20 inches long by 16 inches wide. It has white flowers that grow in small erect clusters. Each flower develops into a green, deeply ridged fruit that contains several seeds. All parts of this plant have an unpleasant odor. While Poison Hemlock is usually biennial, in favorable locations it may be perennial.

Poison Hemlock is a non-native that is very common across the United States. It grows along fence lines, ditches, wet roadsides, and meadows. All parts of Poison Hemlock are extremely poisonous, emit a foul odor, and contain CO-NI-INE, an alkaloid most famously known as the toxin used to execute the philosopher Socrates in 399 B.C.  The juice can cause severe skin irritation. Often, internal poisoning occurs after the victim confuses the Hemlock root with Wild Parsnip, the Hemlock leaves with Parsley, or the Hemlock seed with Anise.

For more information on gardening practices and more, or to learn more about the Eastern Shore Master Gardeners, please call your local Extension Office. Here on the Shore, call either 757-787-1361 or 757-678-7946.


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