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Western waterhemlock

Family: Apiaceae

Scientific name: Cicuta douglasii (DC.) Coult. & Rose

Common name: Western waterhemlock

Description: Waterhemlock is a branching perennial that reaches a height of more than 6 feet. The swollen bases of the stems and the usually thick roots have horizontal chambers inside. These chambers exude a gummy and oily yellow juice when cut. The leaves are 5-14 inches long and pinnately divided. The lanceolate leaflets have sharp teeth on the margins. Flowers are small and white in flat-topped clusters. Fruits are small, flat, and round and are decorated with corky roundish ridges.

Occurrence: This member of the carrot family flowers between June and August and is widespread in the Western United States in marshes and wet low places.

Toxicity: Water hemlock contains a poisonous oily, yellow juice called cicutoxin that is found primarily in the fleshy, tuber-like roots, with lesser amounts in the parts above ground. The root is very poisonous; one mouthful is sufficient to kill an adult. Children have been poisoned by using the hollow stems for whistles or pea shooters. The plant sometimes is mistaken for wild artichoke or wild parsnip; death results from eating it.

Symptoms Cicutoxin acts directly on the central nervous system. Symptoms appear within 15 minutes to an hour and include violent convulsions, acute stomach pains, dilated pupils, elevated temperature, diarrhea, delirium, and death.

Related Species: Cicuta maculata L., also called waterhemlock or spotted cowbane, occurs mainly in the Eastern United States. This species often has a purple-mottled stem base. It is a biennial. The roots resemble small sweet potatoes and they smell like parsnips.

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