Water Hemlock Cicuta maculata

I am slowly moving along on the plant pages and am now working in the family Apiaceae. This family is one of many common weeds and plants. They have a central stalk topped by an umbel of tiny flowers. This is one of them, one to be wary of. Again, if you have comments, suggestions or constructive criticisms, please let me know.

The pictures on the original pages are arranged differently alongside the writing. This is difficult to do here.

Cicuta maculata

May to September                                       N                                 Family: Apiaceae

water hemlock flowers

Flower: The typical family umbel is formed of balls of flower clusters spread out in a rounded flattened hemisphere. Each cluster is on a long hairy light green stalk. Each flower is on a short light green hairy stalk. The five petals have short hairs on the outside. They begin curved inward and unfurl. the five stamens then unfurl to stick out over the open flower. An individual flower is about a quarter inch across.

water hemlock leaf

Leaf: The leaves are compound, split into three parts. Upper leaves may have only three leaflets. Lower leaves may have each of the three leaflets split in threes. Petioles get longer on the lower leaves. The petioles are split open on the top, purplish. the leaves are a dull dark green. Each leaflet has a midvein and is toothed. All are covered with very short hairs.

water hemlock under leaf

Stem: The stem is hollow, ridged and unbranched. It is green between the ridges and purple on the ridges. Whenever a petiole goes off, there is a ridge around the stem. The base of the petiole spreads out around half of the stem. There may be a partition inside the stem at this point as well.

water hemlock stem

Root: There is a main taproot. It can be enlarged and bulbous. It is extremely toxic.

Fruit: Not done yet.

Habitat: Moist areas are preferred. It grows along road ditches, streams, ravines, around ponds and lakes and in low lying moist areas of pastures.

Poisonous: This plant is considered to be the most toxic plant in North America. All parts are toxic. Boys have been poisoned using the hollow stems for whistles.


Common Water Hemlock

Spotted Cowbane

water hemlock plants

Only a few mouthfuls of this plant can kill a cow. This has earned this plant the place of most poisonous plant in North America.

As its name implies, water hemlock likes moist places such as roadside ditches and open ravines. The spring leaves can go unnoticed.

Once the purple flower stalk extends upward to five or six feet, the plant is very noticeable. The stems can be an inch in diameter and are hollow.

Each ball of flowers is on its own stalk. The creamy white is an attractive color adding to the noticeability of the plant.

All parts of water hemlock are poisonous. The plants are annuals making control possible. Cutting the plants off is ineffective as new stalks will grow up and bloom.

The plant itself must be pulled or killed. Since the sap is very toxic, gloves are essential. As soon as the stalks make the identification easy, the plants should be pulled. Each of the numerous flowers will produce a seed so waiting is not wise.

The area must be checked for several years as the seed can lie dormant for some time.

Another related hemlock, poison hemlock introduced from Europe, looks similar. Both are annuals and highly poisonous. Water hemlock has a compound leaf with coarse toothed leaflets subdivided into threes. Poison hemlock has finely cut leaves similar to those of Queen Anne’s Lace.