Two plants NOT to pick this spring (hint: one was Socrates downfall)
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 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. 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), 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…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 Anee’s lace, 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.