One of the most toxic plants in the world, the Poison Hemlock plant, is one that many love to hate. Initially confined to places like Europe, it has now found its way to places like the US. With that comes confusion, as there are plants that look like Poison Hemlock.
- 1. Queen’s Lace (Daucus Carota)
- 2. Wild Fennel (Foeniculum Vulgare)
- 3. Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium)
- 4. Giant Hogweed (Heracleum Mantegazzianum)
- 5. Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca Sativa)
- 6. Black Elderberry (Sambucus Canadensis)
- 7. Valerian (Valeriana Officinalis)
- 8. Angelica (Angelica Atropurpurea)
- 9. Wild carrot (Daucus carota)
- 10. Oshá (Ligusticum porteri)
- 11. Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris)
- 12. Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata)
Poison Hemlock from the carrot family, also called Conium maculatum, is a noxious, deadly weed that can grow as high as 10 feet tall. Poison Hemlock is one plant that is dangerous in every way, from its stem to its leaves and its flowers.
With its dome-shaped flowers and fern-like leaves, one wouldn’t expect it to be dangerous, but eating any part of this Apiaceae plant can be deadly to not only people but animals too.
All of the stalks of each floret start at one central location and come out to be at the relatively same height. Its most distinguishing characteristic is its smooth, waxy, splotchy red and purple stem.
This plant is easy to find as it is just about everywhere around ponds, ditches, canals, roadsides, railways, dry or waste areas, etc. The Poison Hemlock mostly prefers prevalent water areas. Each of these plants can produce 3000 seeds. Interestingly, once it seeds, it dies.
If you’re planning on spending time outdoors anytime soon, it’s best to be on the lookout for toxic plants like Poison Hemlock. But because there are so many look-alikes, it can be difficult to figure out which plants to avoid. Here are the plants that look like Poison Hemlock.
1. Queen’s Lace (Daucus Carota)
It is difficult to distinguish between Queen’s Lace and Poison Hemlock plants. The reason is that they both come from the carrot family, so unsurprisingly, they will share some similar features. The Queens’ Lace and Poison Hemlock have what experts call an umbel.
This term speaks for itself, as an umbel speaks to the shape of the flowers on top of the stem as they form an umbrella-like shape. Generally, this plant’s umbel tends to be flatter than the Poison Hemlock umbel.
The flowering in both plants is a similar pure white color. The Queens’s Lace plant and Poison Hemlock plant also have similar-looking leaf characteristics, a fern carrot-like appearance, as they belong to the Apiaceae family.
2. Wild Fennel (Foeniculum Vulgare)
You want to know exactly what you are working with when you’re out in the wild. It gets tricky when you have plants that look like others. In this case, the Wild Fennel, an edible plant, has been known to look like Poison Hemlock.
Related: 8 Plants That Look Like Fennel
Hemlock and Fennel belong to the family Apiaceae, and both have those recognizable umbrella-shaped bloom clusters. These plants have similar growth patterns and reach roughly the same sizes. So it isn’t surprising that they can be likened to one another.
Both of the plants usually get reduced to nothing more than tall, brown stalks with a few remaining seeds on the topmost stems. Plants are bound to dry up after long, dry, warm months. A dried-up Wild Fennel plant looks like a dried-up Poison Hemlock plant.
3. Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium)
In field guides, they warn not to use Yarrow as it can easily be confused for Poison Hemlock. It is because Yarrow leaves appear similar to the Poison Hemlock leaves in their line drawing as they have a fern-like appearance similar to Poison Hemlock.
However, they are on the small side and tend to look like feathers upon a closer look, and they are not compound. Yarrow may also be mistaken as a Poison Hemlock plant as it appears to have an umbel of white flowers.
That isn’t the case, as when looked at from the side, one can easily see that all the stems branching out to form the flowers originate from different locations. This is not an umbel but a corymb, a flower cluster with a flat top with longer lower and shorter upper stems.
Related: 5 Plants Similar To Yarrow
4. Giant Hogweed (Heracleum Mantegazzianum)
The Poison Hemlock’s little white flowers grow in dome-like clusters on all of the plant’s branches, and the Giant Hogweed’s white flower clusters resemble those of the Poison Hemlock. They are closer together and larger, measuring about two feet across.
Related: 8 Plants That Look Like Hogweed
Hogweed plants can reach heights of more than 8 feet, which is comparable to the 10 feet of Poison Hemlock trees.
Another similarity in appearance is that purple spots mark the Hogweed tree’s green stems. This is one of Poison Hemlock’s distinguishing features, as was already established.
5. Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca Sativa)
Wild Parsnip is considered invasive in certain parts like North America as it is one of those plants that take over and get a foothold almost anywhere. It is also quite toxic as it has a photosensitive chemical in the sap it releases that can leave permanent skin damage.
This plant, Pastinaca sativa, is also a part of the Apiaceae family and is similar in looks to the Poison Hemlock when it comes to the flower shape. It has a hollow, smooth stem, much like the Poison Hemlock.
Both the umbels of these plants form a dome-like shape, and the flowering is white. There are mini umbels on the plant’s flower head that are slightly spaced, so they don’t form a tight-knit flower structure. The slight spaces are a look that is similar to the Poison Hemlock umbel.
6. Black Elderberry (Sambucus Canadensis)
Black Elderberry is a woody shrub that produces black berries. This plant looks like Poison Hemlock, especially at a glance.
The reason is it also has an umbel of white flowers, much like the Poison Hemlock plant. However, this plant’s floral cluster is much tighter, flatter, and spans 8 inches across.
It also has compound leaves like the Poison Hemlock. However, its leaves are more on the broader side. Another similar characteristic is how tall both these plants can grow to be. The Black Elderberry is known to grow to 12 feet.
Related: Are Elderberries Poisonous?
7. Valerian (Valeriana Officinalis)
Originally from Europe and Asia, Valerian has spread throughout most of the United States over many decades. Many aren’t mindful that this plant has a comparable growth pattern with a plant that has poisonous white blooms. Interestingly, this plant first resembles Wild Parsnip when it is young.
It only truly starts looking like a Poison Hemlock once it grows. Valerian blooms in clusters of delicate white flowers in the middle of the summer. Once the plants are between 3 and 6 feet tall, white clusters of blooms begin to appear. Valerian flowers don’t have an umbel.
However, their cluster is similar to the umbrella-like cluster seen on Poison Hemlock plants. The flowers of the Valerian occasionally also have a pink tint to them. This plant can grow quite tall, much like the Poison Hemlock plant. Valerian stalks can reach heights of up to 6 feet.
8. Angelica (Angelica Atropurpurea)
Angelica is an edible and tasty wild plant. It can be tricky to figure out if a plant is Poison Hemlock or Angelica when wild food foraging, as they look alike.
The Angelic plant’s flat cluster looks similar to the Poison Hemlock’s. If a closer inspection isn’t done, you may assume that the plant is Poison Hemlock because they are also white blooms.
The stems of the angelica are incredibly similar to the Poison Hemlock plant as they have no hair and have a waxy covering. These make angelica a contender for the Poison Hemlock, as it can be difficult telling the difference.
9. Wild carrot (Daucus carota)
The wild carrot (Daucus carota) is a flowering plant from the Apiaceae (carrot) family. It has many common names, including the European wild carrot and Queen Anne’s lace in North America, and favors temperate habitats where it’s never unbearably hot or freezing cold.
Wild carrot plants produce flowers with white petals that typically have a tiny purple dot in the center. The anecdote states that Queen Anne created some lace and pricked her finger, spilling a drop of her blood in the center of the flowerhead.
The flowerhead may not always have a purple dot, so you should consider the petals. It consists of one umbel – numerous flower petals that stem from a common point like an umbrella. Their leaves are darker green than hemlock and spread apart more finely.
If you examine the stem of a wild carrot plant, you’ll notice many tiny white hairs and no purple spots or blotches. The underside of the flower will have small grass pieces that look like spears.
10. Oshá (Ligusticum porteri)
Oshá (Ligusticum porteri) is a perennial herb that’s part of the Apiaceae family and native to the southwestern US and the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico.
It also goes by names like wild celery and wild parsnip. It’s primarily a mountain plant that favors shade and thrives in deep, moist, and organic soils.
Since it’s part of the same family as hemlock, Oshá shares similar aesthetic features, akin to parsley leaves and double umbels of white flowers.
The underside of the leaves, which connect to the root crows, have a red-like appearance, and the roots consist of a chocolate-brown colorant and wrinkled skin.
If you were to remove the skin, you’d notice the inner root tissue has tiny hairs with a yellowish-white appearance and spicy smell, while hemlock does not have a noticeable fragrance.
Unlike hemlock, which is highly poisonous and will kill you if you ingest it, Oshá is a mighty combatant in the fight against stress, inflammation, and infection. Oshá does not favor moist soil like hemlock since it relies on mycorrhizal fungi.
If you find a plant growing in moist soil with purple spots on its stalk, and it measures about 2.46 – 6.56 feet (0.75 – 2 m) tall with clusters of white flowers like an umbrella, it’s likely hemlock, and you should avoid it.
11. Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris)
Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) is a short-lived herbaceous perennial plant in the Apiaceae genus Anthriscus.
It’s native to northwestern Africa, western Asia, and Europe. It belongs to the diverse group of Apiaceae plants, like carrot, hemlock, hogweed, and parsley. Since its closely related to hemlock, people often confuse it with Wild carrot (Daucus carota).
Cow parsley is an upright non-woody plant that can grow up to 24 – 67 inches (60 – 170 cm) tall. The stems are green and hollow and decorated with vertical lines that measure up to 0.59 inches (1.5 cm) in diameter.
Whereas hemlock has a smooth stem, cow parsley has many tiny hairs that set it apart. The leaves are triangular with a length of xx (45 cm) and a width of xx (30 cm).
Leaves also assume a 2 – 3 pinnate arrangement (the leaves take on a feathery or multi-divided appearance from a common stem axis) and have a hairy underside.
Cow parsley flowers measure about 0.4 – 0.8 inches (1 – 2 cm) in diameter and have slender supporting stems that can vary in height between 11.8” to 4.92 feet (30 cm to 1.5 m).
Cow parsley thrives in regions with a lot of sunshine and adequately shaded areas. They are common in woodlands, meadows, and near the edges of hedgerows. You can also expect to see them grow by the roadside, which is why it is essential to differentiate them from hemlock.
12. Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata)
Water hemlock (Cicuta maculata) is a poisonous flowering plant belonging to the Apiaceae (carrot) family. Its toxic attributes earn it the title suicide root, which is common in North America, from southern Mexico to Canada.
This plant flowers from May to September and thrives in moist soil found in meadows, marshes, ponds, and roadside areas.
Water hemlock is a perennial herb with rootstalks and an erect, hollow stem that can grow up to 6 feet (1.8 m) tall. The shiny green leaves of this plant give off a serrated appearance and form a sharp tip at the end that looks like an arrow.
A leaflet can be 1 – 4 inches (2 – 10 cm) long, while an entire leaf can be as long as 16 inches (40 cm). The arrangement of white flowers looks very similar to the hemlock plant, as its flowers cluster together from a single point to look like an umbrella.
Water hemlock produces clusters of tiny white flowers with five petals that form together from a common point and look like a dome.
The stems of water hemlock and regular hemlock share similarities, with both having smooth, hairless, and green or purple features. Water hemlock stems are solid and not hollow and don’t carry a distinct smell like hemlock. They’re also much sturdier and don’t break easily.
Hemlock stems are hollow, have a distinct smell, and have purple or red markings and smudges that indicate their toxic chemical known as coniine. They also break much easier than water hemlock stems.