It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I even learned Poison Hemlock was really a plant and that it grew in Kentucky. I feel like it was only ever mentioned in stories about spells or potions, but there is reason for that.

It can cause some serious damage if encountered or ingested by living beings. This is the time of year it starts to grow in Kentucky, so I thought it would be good to be prepared with how to spot it and what to do if you find it.


What is Poison Hemlock?

The plant was once introduced in America as an ornamental fern but it was unfortunately discovered that the pretty leaves and tiny flowers had toxic properties.  It grows in almost every state now because of how quickly it spreads. The little buds have little seeds that either fall off or get blown away and multiply.


Identifying Poison Hemlock

If I didn't know any better, I would think this was Queen Anne's Lace. The perfectly harmless and beautiful flower often considered a weed is commonly used in floral arrangements. However, here are some qualities specific to Poison Hemlock to help spot it in the wild. According to the National Park Service if you notice the following, first, do not touch it:

- It grows two to ten feet tall.

-The stems are ribbed and hollow with purplish streaks or splotches.

-The leaves have some resemblance to ferns. They are opposite and compound, with the leaflets divided into narrow segments.

-The small, white or yellowish flowers have five petals

-When crushed, the leaves emit a rank odor

Obviously, that last part should be avoided unless its necessary to identify.  It is not recommended to touch this plant with your bare skin, for sure.

Poison Hemlock is Toxic to Humans & Animals

According to WebMD,

The name “poison hemlock” is no joke. All parts of the plant are highly toxic to humans and animals. Poison hemlock is most dangerous when eaten, but the plant's toxins can also be absorbed through the skin or breathed in.


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How to Get Rid of Poison Hemlock

The key to making this nasty stuff disappear is spotting it early before it takes over your yard. Here are some ways to get rid of it before your pets or kiddos accidentally get ahold of it.


  • Dig the plant out by the roots, working in small patches.
  • You can use herbicides in late fall or early spring but not while the flowers are blooming.
  • Place the uprooted plants in a plastic bag and put them in the trash.
  • Don't burn, cut, or mow poison hemlock, as the fumes can be toxic.
  • When removing the plant, wear protective gear that includes thick gloves, long sleeves, a face mask, and protective eyewear.
  • Shower after removing the plant to remove any toxic sap from your skin.
  • Wash the clothes you were wearing to remove any plant residue.


Spot Poison Hemlock Poisoning

If you have a skin reaction to this plant, you will notice puffy blisters appear that can be itchy and weepy. If you've accidentally ingested the plant, these symptoms will show in just minutes. Dry mouth, confusion, rapid heartbeat, lack of coordination, sweating, vomiting, and could be followed by seizures. Call Poison Control immediately if you're unsure 1-800-222-1222 or head to the emergency room.

LOOK: Here Are 30 Foods That Are Poisonous to Dogs

To prepare yourself for a potential incident, always keep your vet's phone number handy, along with an after-hours clinic you can call in an emergency. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center also has a hotline you can call at (888) 426-4435 for advice.

Even with all of these resources, however, the best cure for food poisoning is preventing it in the first place. To give you an idea of what human foods can be dangerous, Stacker has put together a slideshow of 30 common foods to avoid. Take a look to see if there are any that surprise you.

Gallery Credit: Rachel Cavanaugh

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