Poison-Hemlock Could Be Growing In Your Garden

And it looks almost identical to harmless Queen Anne’s Lace wildflowers.

Having wildflowers spontaneously spring up in your garden can be endearing at times. It's like nature wanted to support you in your green thumb endeavors by adding its own flourish to your yard, until you learn that some wildflowers are deadly.

Poison-hemlock (Conium maculatum) is a wildflower that grows throughout the United States, and although its flowers are strikingly like those of Queen Anne's lace (Daucus carota), you do not want to add this wildflower to your arrangements. Poison-hemlock and Queen Anne's lace are both part of the wild carrot and parsnip families, which is where they get their similarity in appearance. To avoid confusing the two plants, here's how to tell them apart.

Poison Hemlock
Getty Images

Why Poison-Hemlock Isn't Safe

According to the USDA, "all parts of poison-hemlock (leaves, stem, fruit, and root) are poisonous," and the leaves are especially poisonous in the spring until the time that the plant flowers. It typically grows along fence lines, and in moist places. Poisoning can occur because of its similarity to other plants. Its roots can be confused with wild parsnip, leaves with parsley, and seeds with anise. Confusing poison-hemlock with Queen Anne's lace could mean bringing the wrong plant not only into your yard, but also into your home.

It is toxic to pets and livestock, as well as humans. While animals typically avoid it, it can mistakenly make it into their food supply. When eaten, it affects the nervous system and symptoms of poisoning can occur quickly, including breathing difficulties and tremors.

How to Identify These Look-Alikes

To avoid confusing poison-hemlock and Queen Anne's lace, which is safe to include in flower arrangements and edible, here are a few ways to differentiate between the two plants.

Poison Hemlock Stem
Getty Images

The texture and coloring of their stems

The stems of both poison-hemlock and Queen Anne's lace are hollow, but poison-hemlock will have small purple spots all over its smooth stem, according to the USDA. Queen Anne's lace has no purple spots and is hairy, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Queen Anne's lace flower
An umbel of Queen Anne's lace. Queen Anne's lace has a hairy stem and pronged bracts at the base of the flowers. Getty Images

The shape of their flowers

The umbel (the cluster of flowers) of Queen Anne's lace is flat-topped and sometimes there is a tiny, singular purple flower in the center of the lace, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

The umbel of poison-hemlock is more rounded and the flowers are not as tightly clustered together.

The texture and coloring of their leaves

The leaves on Queen Anne's lace will have hair on them like its stem, while the leaves of poison-hemlock will not.

These three main differences between the two plants should help in identifying which wildflowers you can safely bring into your home, and which you should avoid. A final distinguishing feature of Queen Anne's lace are the pronged bracts, which look like skinny leaves, that are located at the base of the flowers and the umbel.

How to Stay Safe

The USDA notes that if you want to catch poison-hemlock early and rid it from your backyard, you can treat the plants before they begin to bud. Mowing this plant is not recommended as you run the risk of breathing in particles, and the plant will grow back.

If you are unsure of whether the plant is Queen Anne's lace or poison-hemlock, be safe and don't touch it. Contact your local extension office to let an expert identify it for you.

Next time you discover a new wildflower in your yard, make sure that it's a friendly wildflower and not a foe to you and your garden.

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