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Water Hemlock Cicuta maculata (Cicuta mexicana)


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Water Hemlock
credit: Williammehlhorn

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Alternate name: Spotted Water Hemlock

Family: Apiaceae, Carrot view all from this family

Description Native perennial. Height: 3-7 feet. Habit: erect with hollow stem. The long leaves are made up of several lance-shaped, pointed, serrated leaflets. Each shiny green leaflet is 1-4 inches long and the entire leaf may be up to 16 inches long. The dry tan-brown fruit is less than 1/8" long. Roots: white rhizomes resembling parsnips.

Warning All parts of this plant are deadly poisonous if eaten. Only a very small quantity can cause death. The roots have been mistaken for parsnips and other common root crops, with fatal results; cattle, horses, and sheep have died from grazing on it. Children can be poisoned by blowing through whistles made from the stalks. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a personís age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. Toxicity can vary in a plant according to season, the plantís different parts, and its stage of growth; and plants can absorb toxic substances, such as herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants from the water, air, and soil.

Flower Tight dime-size clusters of flowers arranged in a compound umbel, 3" diameter. Resembles Queen Anne's lace. Bracts at the base of each small flower cluster, not at the base of the main flower head.

Habitat Near the shore lines of lakes and rivers.

Range Found throughout the continental U.S., Alaska, and most of Canada.

Discussion Extremely poisonous; considered to be North America's most toxic plant. Ingestion of water hemlock in any quantity can result in death or permanent damage of the central nervous system.

Also known as: spotted water hemlock, spotted parsley, spotted cowbane, common water hemlock, poison parsnip.