» Poisonous Plants » Poison hemlock, hemlock

Poison hemlock, hemlock

Family: Apiaceae

Scientific name: Conium maculatum L.

Common name: Poison hemlock, hemlock

Description: Poison hemlock is a tall biennial herb with a stout taproot and purple-spotted stems. The leaves are pinnately dissected three to four times with rather small ultimate segments. The flowers are small and white and are arranged in umbrella-shaped clusters. Fruits are broadly ovate and are flattened laterally. Flowering occurs between June and August. Poison hemlock is a member of the carrot family.

Occurrence: The plant was introduced from Eurasia and is now a widespread weed along waterways and disturbed sites throughout North America.

Toxicity: The toxic properties of poison hemlock have been known since antiquity. The poison was used by Romans and Greeks for suicides or to dispatch enemies or criminals. The plant contains toxic alkaloids of which one, coniine, has been identified. Unlike water hemlock, the toxic compounds occur primarily in the stems, leaves, and fruits rather than in the roots. The seeds are particularly high in toxic alkaloids. The plant is most poisonous as the seeds mature.

Symptoms: The toxic compounds produce vomiting, weakness, trembling, depression of the central nervous system, dilation of pupils, coma, and death.

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