DO NOT TOUCH! Illinois’ Deadly New Issue, Poison Hemlock Plant
A very toxic plant has crept its way from Europe into America and it's some pretty awful stuff. It's now spreading quickly throughout the Midwest.
BEFORE WE GO ANY FURTHER, BURN THE PHOTO BELOW IN MEMORY
Don't forget what this looks like, it will be very important. You'll see this photo again, but I don't want you to forget it.
Poisonous Hemlock has a Long History
This very toxic and deadly plant was used repeatedly in Shakespearean potions. Hemlock was also used for executions in Ancient Greece.
This plant is the quintessential 'wolf in sheep's clothing', as it resembles Queen Anne's Lace. Queen Anne's is also referred to as a wild carrot and it's also an herb used across the U.S.. In other words, pretty harmless.
You absolutely DO NOT want to accidentally use this in your food. This poisonous hemlock can do all kinds of damage long before it makes it into your food, too.
Take a look at how closely the 'wolf' (right) resembles the 'sheep' (left)
Poison Hemlock is a Legendary Killer
The most famous case of hemlock poisoning was that of Greek philosopher Socrates in 399 BC. He'd been found guilty of heresy and his sentence was death by hemlock. They even made him drink it himself. By his own hand.
Ingesting it is what makes it deadly, but even contact with its sap can create some major problems for you. Blisters, welts and rashes, can all appear after you've been in contact with the plant. All parts of the hemlock plant contain toxic alkaloids that can interfere with nerve transmissions to your muscles, ultimately causing respiratory failure. You also don't want your pets coming in contact with the stuff.
This stuff thrives in rural areas, along the fence line of fields and along the highway right-of-ways. Plant experts say what's very concerning is how much it has migrated toward more populated areas. This plant is also biennial, meaning it's just a clump of leaves growing close to the ground during its first year, then the second year it shoots up a stem that grow anywhere from 6-15 feet. At this point, it begins to flower and resemble Queen Anne's Lace
“It is not a plant you want around your home or in your local park.”
That quote above, from Dan Shaver (Indiana's Natural Resources Conservation Service), is why this plant's rapid migration needs a little of your diligence. Certainly wouldn't hurt to take a peak around your property just to be certain. If you discover some on your property, put on some long pants, long sleeves, safety glasses and some gloves. The best time to try and remove this hemlock is in the spring, before it flowers.
One of the quickest ways to distinguish between poison hemlock and Queen Anne's Lace, is the stem of the hemlock. It's smooth and you'll notice purple spots.
Poison hemlock doesn’t have native competition or predators.
(You should probably read that again.)
This is PRIME season for spreading the hemlock's seeds every time someone mows over the top of them, or over any ground where the plant has already seeded. When hemlock flowers, each plant can produce as many as 30,000 seeds. The flowering season is the month of August.
If you plan to remove hemlock from your property, or spot it somewhere else, get yourself all the important information about what to do next.