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Don’t Touch! 2 Poison Plants that Look Appealing

Over the past few years, a couple of poisonous weeds have invaded our natural areas as well as the landscapes. And with warm weather just around the corner, these will be popping up and look so appealing you may be tempted to pick: BUT DON’T!!

Whenever I take the kids out in the fields to pick wild edibles and flowers, there’s  lots of plants I stay away from, but 2 plants I stay away from, and I mean away from entirely. They’re wild parsnip and poison hemlock, and could be confused for each other, as they show up along roadsides, streams, pastures, edge of fields and woods, and even in our landscapes. Ron Wilson, my gardening guru,  talks about both:

Wild Parsnip
Wild Parsnip


Wild Parsnip Flowers
Wild Parsnip Flowers

Wild parsnip.  It’s a biennial, meaning foliage the first year, then foliage flowers and seeds the second.  Wild parsnip has leaves that alternate, pinnately compound, with sawtooth edges.  They grow 2-6 feet high, and support small, five petaled yellow flowers arranged in an umbel spanning 2-6 inches across.  Now although wild parsnip roots are edible (but do not eat them is my opinion), it’s the plant juice that can cause “phyto-photo-dermatitis” when it gets on your skin and is exposed to the sunlight.  Your skin gets red with a rash that’s 20 times worse than poison ivy, and eventually turns brown in color which can last for several months.


Poison Hemlock growing in April in Ohio
Poison Hemlock growing in April in Ohio – see the feathery bright green leaves in the center of the photo
Poison Hemlock Flowers
Poison Hemlock Flowers
Stem of Poison Hemlock  See the purplish blotches
Stem of Poison Hemlock
See the purplish blotches

Poison hemlock…yes, the same poison used on Socrates!  Again, a biennial like parsnip, poison hemlock grows 4-10 feet tall, leaves are pinnately compound and fernlike, with white flowers that have five notched petals arranged in an umbel 2-3 inches across.  Very similar to Queen Anne’s lace (yes, the flowers of Queen Anne’s lace make a lovely jelly but be sure you make a positive ID), poison hemlock is distinguished by the purple spots and blotches along the stems.  All parts of the poison hemlock are toxic to humans and animals.

Controls for these toxic weeds include handpulling before they go to seed (protect your skin), repeated mowings, or spraying with weed killers in the lawn or Roundup in open areas…and spray when they are smaller in size. Remember, the goal in stopping them is to get rid of them before they go to seed.

One last tip: As you know I forage for wild edibles. But I make sure I know what I’m picking is safe. If you’re not absolutely sure a plant is safe, pass it by. It’s not worth get

Read more: http://www.ronwilsononline.com/pages/RonWilson.html

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