Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Poison Hemlock - Something To Watch Out For

Most of the time, weeds simply bother gardeners by getting in the way of their plants in lawns and shrub beds. We seldom think of weeds as being dangerous. But poison hemlock in particular has chemical components that can harm people and animals.

This plant was introduced to North America from Europe, and has often been mistaken for a garden ornamental. The plant is attractive, but can be lethal to people and animals.  Poison hemlock is acutely toxic to people and animals. 

Poison hemlock is a member of the wild carrot family, and is common along roadsides, open fields, waterways, natural areas and in cultivated areas. It resembles anise or wild parsley, and is classified in the family Umbelliferae, the parsley family. All parts of this plant are poisonous: leaves, stems, roots, and fruits. Poison hemlock contains volatile alkaloids that have been used as a poison since ancient times. It is unrelated to the native evergreen hemlock tree.  And, more importantly, poison-hemlock can be deadly.

The famous incident of Socrates' death in Athens in 329 BC occurred when he was given the juice of poison hemlock to drink.

How can you identify it? Look closely at the stem of any plant you may suspect of being poison hemlock. The stem is hollow, smooth (not hairy) and marked with purple streaks and blotches. These blotches and streaks on a green hollow hairless stem, and the mottled purple spots, are definite identifiers of the plant. The finely divided leaves, fern-like, resemble Queen Anne's lace. Flowers are lacy and white, appearing from late May to August.  It can get quite tall, sometimes up to 8 feet or higher. It produces many flower heads in a more open and branching inflorescense. It is often confused with the wild carrot and many other members of the parsley family that resemble poison hemlock.  Wild carrot usually has one red flower in the center of the flower top and is usually about 3 feet tall, or less. Poison-hemlock starts growing in the spring time, producing flowers in late spring, while wild carrot produces flowers later in the summer.

Poison hemlock is a biennial. It grows from seeds. During the first year, it produces a rosette of fern-like leaves close to the ground. The second season it bolts to form the tall, erect, flowering stems which can be from 4 to 8 feet tall. The white flowers develop into green, ridged seed capsules which turn brown when the seeds mature. The leaves and flowers smell of a distinctive, "mousey" odor.

Poison hemlock must be removed. Do not allow this weed to go to seed. Wear gloves when handling it. Don't put it into the compost. Dead stalks can remain poisonous for two or three seasons. Don't incinerate it (don't inhale the smoke). The herbicide 2,4-D applied to the early stages of growth will kill it.

If you think you have poison hemlock growing in your garden, I would highly recommend contacting an arborist and let them or a professional tree service that has a highly qualified plant health care division remove the poison hemlock for you.  Trees "R" Us, Inc. has 4 certifiied arborists on staff to help you with plant issues such as this.  Trees "R" Us, Inc.'s plant health care division is equipped with the right equipment, experience and personnel to complete the removal of your problem plants safely and accurately.  Don't leave this type of job to anyone but a profession tree service, like Trees "R" Us, Inc. Contact us via the web at www.treesrusinc.com, or by phone at 847-913-9069, or email me directly at nick@treesrusinc.com.
Trees "R" Us, Inc. provides quality tree maintenance, expert tree care and comprehensive tree services to the north shore and suburbs of Chicago.  

Thanks for reading,

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